What’s the scoop on blobfish?
Imagine sitting on the deck of a giant fishing trawler somewhere off the coast of Australia. The fishermen are reeling in the big nets, and lots of eerie, alien-looking creatures are being dumped on the decks. Suddenly, you see an odd, smooth, foot-long lump amongst the chaos. It’s a squid! It’s an octopus! No, it’s a…blobfish?
What is a blobfish?
A blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus) may be the ugliest animal you’ve ever seen. In fact, the title is official: in a 2013 competition held by the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, the blobfish was actually voted as the World’s Ugliest Animal. The blobfish has small eyes, a gelatinous appearance, a large mouth, and a relatively small body and fins to go with it.
If being named “blobfish” wasn’t bad enough, the rest of its family gets little love either. The blobfish is a member of the Psychrolutidae family of fishes, commonly known as “fathead sculpins” due to the size of their heads and generally floppy appearances. Poor guys!
Life as a Blob
As it turns out, the blobfish has good reason to be so ugly: its habitat shaped it that way. Blobfish live in deep water just off the ocean floor around southeastern Australia and Tasmania. At depths of 2,000 feet or greater, the water pressure is crushing—more than 60 times that of water at the surface! If you lived down that deep, you’d probably be squished into a blob, too.
Fortunately for the blobfish, they’ve adopted a way of living that allows them to survive just fine as a blob in the deep ocean. They tend to float along, just off the bottom of the sea, eating whatever happens to float right in front of them and is small enough to fit into their mouths.
You might think that being a blob would be a disadvantage, but for the blobfish lifestyle, it actually helps. Most of its body mass is gelatinous, and it has very few hard bones. This is an advantage in the crushing depths where it lives; by being made out of gelatinous, blobby material, the blobfish can keep itself from being crushed due to water pressure. In fact, the blobfish looks very different when in its natural environment at the bottom of the sea—it appears much more compressed and fish-like (but still quite odd-looking, even for a fish).
Being a gelatinous blob also helps the blobfish with its coach-potato attitude. Its body composition gives it just the right buoyancy to float along across the bottom of the sea without having to expend much effort. Imagine putting a water balloon in a pool full of people: it would just kind of float along across the bottom of the pool. The same thing happens with the blobfish, minus the pool and lots of people part.
Why are blobfish numbers declining?
It’s difficult to get good population numbers on the blobfish because it’s not a very important species economically. No one is crowding into expensive restaurants asking for the Blob of the Day. They’re also very hard to find (how likely are you really to come across a blobfish in your adventures?), and not very photogenic, unlike red wolves or whooping cranes. It’s likely that no one really knows how many blobfish there are.
Nevertheless, scientists think that these interesting fish are declining due to fishing activity. Fisherman use trawlers to catch deep-sea delicacies like orange roughy and crustaceans in their native environment, and sometimes blobfish just happen to get swept into these nets, too. When they are inadvertently caught, they’re known as bycatch, and it’s a huge problem for many other non-food species of fish as well. Luckily, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority has closed some of their habitat to fishing, so hopefully there’ll be less blobfish bycatch in the future.
In the meantime, though, you can learn more about blobfish and other interesting threatened ugly animals at the Ugly Animal Preservation Society!