Blobfish World's Ugliest Animal
The Australian Blobfish which lives more than 1,000 meters beneath the oceans off the coast of Australia was voted the ugliest animal in the world. In its natural habitat, the blobfish really isn't that ugly at all.
Because of the great depths at which it lives, no human has ever observed this jelly-bodied fish in its natural habitat. Our knowledge of it is based solely on a few dead animals brought up to the surface in fishing nets and one rare underwater photograph.
The blobfish survives in frigid water, with no sunlight and with water pressure over a 100 times greater than on land. This pressure is so great that it would crumple even the most powerful modern submarine like a soda-can. A human under so much pressure would instantly turn to mush.
The poor blobfish. It was voted the "World's Ugliest Animal". The contest definitely wasn't fair. The judges didn't even use a proper photo of it when selecting it as the winner. The award was based on a 2003 photograph of a dead fish.
"See. I live deep underwater and the pressure of the water keeps my body in great shape. Down there I am just an ordinary looking fish. Bring my up to the surface and I just turn into a big blob of jelly. Now imagine what you would look like if you came down to where I live. You would be a total mess, your body would be squished into a paste - a blob. You too would look very ugly and definitely dead. It's not fair."
Note: The Ugly Animal Preservation Society had good intentions when it voted the blobfish the ugliest animal in 2013. It is trying to raise awareness of endangered animals that don't grab the public's imagination because they are ugly. Another example if this public apathy to unattractive animals is the endangered rainforest bird the cassowary of which there are only about 1,500 left in the wild.
Mr Blobby (see photos above) was a blobfish of the species Psychrolutes microporos. It was trawled up in 2003 by the NORFANZ scientific expedition from a depth of between 1013 to 1340 meters off the Norfolk Ridge north-west of New Zealand. It was 285 mm in length and weighed 1.7kg. Although called Mr Blobby, no one knows if this fish was a male or female as it was never dissected.
Mr Blobby became an overnight media sensation.
Today, Mr Blobby sits preserved in 70% ethyl alcohol, on a shelf in the Australian Museum Ichthyology Collection (AMS I.42771-001). He no longer looks like the photos. His skin has tightened, his eyes sunken and his distinctive nose has shrunk. Poor Mr Blobby.
The blobfish is well adapted for swimming in its deep water environment. Its jelly-like body can easily handle the tremendous pressure of water around it. Its low metabolic rate and slow movement also conserves energy in an environment with little food.
The blobfish is a member of the family Psychrolutidae which includes fathead and fathead scullions. These bottom-dwelling fish have "fat" heads and are are shaped like tadpoles.
Types of Blobfish in Australia
Types of blobfish found close to Australia include the Smooth-head Blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus) found off the coasts of southern Australia, the Western Blobfish (Psychrolutes occidentalis) found off Western Australia and the Psychrolutes microporos (Mr Blobby) near the Norfolk Island.
The adult blobfish is about 30 cm long and weighs approximately 2kgs. It has a broad body with loose, smooth and flabby skin. It has no scales. It is usually pink in colour but can also have grey.
The fish has a globulous head with large black eyes, a blunt fat-filled snout that looks a bit like a bulbous nose and a large mouth with villiform teeth on both jaws (teeth the resemble bristles of a brush). Its head makes up 40% of its total body mass. Its body tapers quickly from its head to a small flat tail.
The most unique characteristic of the blobfish is the composition of its body which is made up almost entirely of a gelatinous mass with a density slightly less than water. Because of this lighter density there is natural buoyancy in the fish, permitting it to float just above the sea floor. It is likely that it can also change the density of its gelatinous mass to vary the depth at which it floats. This allows it to adapt to different depths of water. This lighter-than-water body allows the blobfish to float effortlessly just above the sea floor expending very little energy to move around. Another sea creature that has a gelatinous body is, surprise - surprise, the jelly fish.
The blobfish has very soft cartilaginous bones which easily compress to the extreme pressure of the deep sea without cracking. Another sea creature with cartilaginous bones is the shark.
The blobfish has retained just enough muscle, attached to its soft skeleton in order to perform the basic function of living. These include breathing with its gills, opening its mouth and moving its fins slowly to navigate just above the ocean floor. It low muscle mass and usage has an added benefit that it uses very little energy in movement.
No one is sure how long a blobfish can live. Deep-water fish because of their slow growth rates and reproduction and the lack of natural predators tend to live longer than their shallow-water counterparts. It has been suggested that it may live up to 130 years.
The blobfish looks pretty much like a normal bottom-dwelling fish when swimming in its habitat 1,000 meters below the surface of the ocean. This is because it is almost like the water around it with no air or solid structures inside it to break or rupture.
It looks like a blob of jelly only when it is out of deep water. The reason for this drastic distortion and collapse of its shape is due to the huge decrease in pressure around its body. When swimming in the depths of the ocean the water pressure around it, which is can be over 100 times higher than the air pressure on land, forces its soft body into its natural shape.
Here is an example.
We all know of the slimy stuff kids play with called "Slime". Now when slime is in its container the sides of the container keep it in shape. In this case, the shape of the container is putting pressure on the slime, forcing it into a shape. Now when you take the slime out of its container it no longer has something forcing it to have a shape. So it becomes blobby and has no particular shape. The same principle applies on the blobfish. It is designed to work under pressure. The water is like a container.
The blobfish's body is gelatinous ( like a jelly fish) and once it's brought out of its deep water habitat to the surface it turns into a floppy blobby slippery mass. Because it has very little muscle and is mostly made up of water, It also tastes bland and is not edible.
After all, who wants to eat a tasteless blob?
Blobfish are found in waters along the south western and south eastern coastlines of Australia.
The Smooth-head Blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus) is found off the coasts of southern Australia, the Western Blobfish (Psychrolutes occidentalis) lives off Western Australia and "Mr Blobby" (Psychrolutes microporos) near the Norfolk Island.
Blob fish are bottom dwellers, living close to ocean floor at depths in excess of 1000 meters. No sunlight reaches these depths and as a result there is no vegetation of any sort. The water temperature is just above freezing (2.5 - 4 degrees Celsius). At this depth the water pressure is over a 100 times greater than on land at sea level The pressure is so great that it would crumple even the most powerful modern submarine like a soda-can.
Except for a rare photograph (right above) taken by a deep sea rover underwater vehicle; no blobfish has ever been observed by humans in its natural habitat.
No one is sure how a blobfish feeds itself or what it eats. Scientist believe that given its body structure, with very few muscles, it would be difficult for the blobfish to chase and catch prey. So it probably spends most of its time just floating around, waiting for food to come its way and then sucks it into its big mouth. This may consist of dead biomass drifting down from above, floating crustaceans and larvae,
It may also pick up slow moving creatures such as sea slugs, sea snails and sea urchins which scientists found in the stomachs of some dead blobfish they examined.
Like so much about the blobfish, very little is known about its reproductive habits. It is assumed that the reproductive habits of these fish is similar to blobfish from other parts of the world. The female of these fish lays thousands tiny eggs on the ocean floor and then she and her mate guard by sitting on them to protect them from predator and scavengers.
The main predator endangering the future survival of the blobfish are humans. Deep sea trawlers run nets all the way down the depths at which the blobfish lives. It is caught up in these fishing nets and since it is commercially worthless, it is tossed back into the sea. But by then it is too late for the blobfish. It cannot survive out of its depth and is already dead.
It is hard to be sure if the Australian blobfish is endangered as no one knows what its population numbers are. Conservationists believe that deep-sea trawling may have a significant impact on their survival. These assertions, however, have not been validated with any evidence to prove that they are endangered. To date, very few blobfish have been trawled up in fishing nets, and large areas of their habitat off the coast of Australia are not heavily trawled. So they may, in fact, not be serious affected by human activities.
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