The stout whiting is similar in appearance to a number of Australian sillaginids, with dorsal fin and swimbladder morphology the best identification features. It is a small fish, reaching a known maximum length of 30 cm, but more commonly seen below 23 cm. Like most sillaginids, the stout whiting has a slightly more convex dorsal profile compared to the ventral profile, reflecting the benthic nature of the species. The dorsal fin is composed of 2 sections; the first consisting of 11 spines and the second of 1 spine followed by 16 to 18 soft rays. Large specimens show a distinct anterior keel on the first spine of the first dorsal fin, with this feature being more pronounced in the eastern population. The anal fin is similar to the second dorsal fin, having 2 spines followed by 16 or 19 soft rays. The lateral line has 65-70 scales, whilst the cheek has 2 to 3 rows of cteniod scales, and there are 33 vertebrae in total. The swimbladders of the two populations are slightly different, with the eastern population having small anterolateral extensions, while the western population lack these. There is a single tapering posterior extension and a duct like process which runs from the ventral surface to the urogenital opening.
In life, the stout whiting is a creamy yellow to sandy pink colour dorsally, with a silvery white with mauve reflections ventrally. The dorsal and ventral colours are sharply separated by a silvery mid lateral band that is often only weakly visible. The body and fins are devoid of any dark markings, with the only breaks in colouration being yellow blotches on the cheeks and a yellow blotch on the base of the first dorsal fin. The first dorsal fin has a white base, becoming darker dorsally, while the anal fin is white, becoming more yellow at the base of the fin. The caudal fin is a pale lemon yellow with a speckled margin, the pelvic fins are white to hyaline and the pectoral fins are hyaline. There have been records of geographical variation in colour amongst the species, especially within Shark Bay. The Shark Bay fish may have faint gold bars trending 50 degrees above the mid lateral silvery band, and may have black dusting on the dorsal and anal fins.
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