The Blobfish Isn't as Ugly as You Think

The Blobfish Isn't as Ugly as You Think
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In 2013, Psychrolutes marcidus, otherwise known as the blobfish, garnered global attention when it was voted the world's ugliest animal. The contest, put on by the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, was not meant as a slight towards the blobfish and its rivals, but as a notice to the world that all animals, not just the cute, furry, and mammalian ones, deserve attention, too.

The unknown number of blobfish today, dwelling near the sea floor at depths between 2,000 and 3,900 feet, are undoubtedly indifferent to their surface notoriety, but if they somehow had knowledge of their slimy reputation, they would have good reason to protest. The public perception of the blobfish is based on one of the most unflattering images you can imagine, equal to the worst driver's license photo... times ten.

Mark McGrouther, the Ichthyology Collection Manager at the Australian Museum ought to know. He was there when "Mr. Blobby's" photo (shown above) was taken back in 2003 on the deck of a research vessel just off the coast of Southern Australia. He recalled the fateful moment for Smithsonian Magazine last November.

“His mashed facial features may have resulted from being stuck at the back of the net, squeezed between all sorts of other marine life. By the time he was dumped on the deck of the Tangaroa and exposed to the air, his skin had relaxed. He would have looked a good deal less blobby on the seafloor."

There's a good reason for that. Blobfish reside at a place where ambient pressures are 60 to 120 times greater than at sea level, and they are wonderfully adapted to their crushing environment. Instead of having a gas-filled air bladder to control buoyancy, which would almost certainly implode at the depths where they dwell, blobfish simply have gelatinous skin that is ever-so-slightly less dense than water. That, coupled with their light bones and internal organs, means that the roughly foot-long blobfish just sort of hover above the ocean floor. Their big mouths, melted into frowns out of water, likely remain agape most of the time in water, sucking in floating edible morsels like tiny crustaceans.

All of this leads to a dispelled myth and a simple truth: The blobfish may be the ugliest fish out of water, but in water, it's not so bad. It actually looks downright dapper in this illustration, drawn by scientific artist Rachel Koning.

Scientific illustrations are the best insights we currently have into the blobfish's native look, as one has never actually been spotted in the wild. Photos of its close cousin P. occidentalis do suggest that the drawings are accurate, however.

So think twice before calling the blobfish "ugly." After all, a human probably wouldn't look nearly as good at 3,000 feet deep as the blobfish looks at the surface.

(Images: Kerryn Parkinson, Rachel Koning)

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