Blobfish

 

Common Name:
Blobfish
Scientific Name:
Psychrolutes marcidus
Type:
Fish
Diet:
Omnivore
Size:
About 1 foot long

What is a blobfish?

If you were asked to think of the ugliest creature you can imagine, you might picture the blobfish: a pale pink gelatinous blob with a droopy, downturned mouth and large, sagging nose. After being named the world’s ugliest animal in 2013, this hideous fish soared to fame—with memes, songs, soft toys, and even TV characters created in its honor.

However, according to scientist Richard Arnott, this viral image of the blobfish is nothing more than “a vast bullying campaign.” The fish only looks like a miserable, pink lump when it has been torn from its home, and suffered devastating tissue damage due to the rapid depressurization as it was dragged to the surface. In its natural habitat—thousands of feet underwater—the misunderstood blobfish looks like a normal fish. Here’s what you need to know about these deep-sea creatures.

Appearance

Blobfish look almost unrecognizable underwater: These tadpole-shaped fish have bulbous heads, large jaws, tapered tails, and feathery pectoral fins. Rather than scales, they have loose, flabby skin. They don’t have strong bones or thick muscle—instead, they rely on the water pressure to hold their shape together. That’s why blobfish collapse into a squishy mush when they are pulled up to the surface.

Because they live at such incredible depths, these fascinating fish are hard to study in their natural environment. Much of what scientists have learned about them comes from dead blobfish pulled up to the surface—hence why their above-water form is more widely recognized.

Habitat

Blobfish are usually found in dark, cold habitats deep at the bottom of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans, between 1,970 and 3,940 feet deep.

Most known marine species live in the surface layer of the ocean—above around 650 feet—where there is still light. Once you descend into the deep ocean, the harsh conditions make it difficult for animals to survive. Those that have adapted to these murky and mysterious depths include creatures such as the giant squid, anglerfish, and bioluminescent lanternfish.

Much of the ocean’s depths remain a mystery to scientists—we have better maps of Mars than of the ocean floor. Below 656 feet, the light quickly begins to fade—and none remains below about 3,280 feet. Without sunlight to heat the water, the average temperature at this depth is 39°F. And because photosynthesis cannot take place without light, there’s also a lack of food for animals to eat.

The deeper the water, the more pressure there is from the accumulated weight of the water above. The human eardrum can rupture at just seven feet deep. At around 3,280 feet, the pressure is a hundred times stronger than on land. At this depth, the lungs and other air-filled spaces in the human body would collapse.

How blobfish withstand extreme pressure 

The blobfish’s fascinating physiology is key to the animal’s survival in these extreme conditions. Unlike many other fish, which use a gas-filled sac to control buoyancy, blobfish don’t have a swim bladder. If they did, it would implode due to the extreme pressure.

Instead, the animal’s soft body has a high water and fat content, which helps them withstand the high pressure. The thick layer of jelly-like flesh under their skin makes blobfish slightly less dense than water and allows them to bob along the seabed.

Diet 

But how does the blobfish keep itself alive in a dark, dangerous habitat where food is scarce? These animals are lie-in-wait predators, meaning they sit at the bottom of the ocean and eat anything that passes by, such as crustaceans, brittle stars, anemone, and carrion. This allows them to preserve energy, which is key to their survival.

Reproduction 

Researchers believe that blobfish reproduce in groups, laying large clutches of around 100,000 eggs in each nest, perhaps to increase the offspring’s chances of survival. The devoted parent stays close to the nest, tending the eggs while they develop.

Threats to survival

These flabby fish have no known predators, but may be threatened by destructive human activities, such as deep-sea fishing and bottom trawling, which is when a weighted fishing net is dragged along the sea floor. As a fish that thrives in cold water, they may also be affected by the world’s warming oceans.

But groups like the Ugly Animal Preservation Society aim to raise awareness of the need to protect the blobfish, along with other aesthetically challenged creatures, which are less likely to be researched or protected than their cuter counterparts.

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