Most people would agree that the blobfish is the most obnoxiously ugly of all creatures great and small. On a good day, it looks like a grumpy melted Pokemon. On a bad day, it looks like something you’d find in a dive bar’s toilet at 3 am.
“Mr. Blobby” (image above) is the poster boy of blobfish. He was a specimen collected off the coast of New Zealand and photographed by Kerryn Parkinson during the NORFANZ expedition in 2003. Back in 2013, the photo of Mr. Blobby represented blobfish in an online poll to find the world’s ugliest creature. The blobfish unsurprisingly crushed the competition, thereby winning the honor of becoming the Ugly Animal Preservation Society’s official mascot.
However, not everything is what it seems with this ugly thing. You’ll be shocked to hear that blobfish look pretty normal when they are in their natural habitat deep in the seas off southern Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand. The gelatinous blobs we think of as blobfish are actually decompressed specimens suffering from decompression damage.
The blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus) is a deep-sea fish that dwells within the dark depths 600 to 1,200 meters (2,000 to 3,900 feet) beneath the waves. They never go above the ocean’s “twilight zone”, depths of 300 meters (985 feet), unless they are unwillingly dragged up by a scientist or a fisherman.
As deep-sea creatures, they are well-adapted to a life of crushing pressure and minimal light. They are armed with soft bones and jelly-like flesh which allows them to undergo pressure without cracking or getting crushed. They also don’t have a swim bladder, a gas-filled cavity most fish use to control their buoyancy, as it would collapse under the extreme pressure.
Since they don’t have any natural structural support, they bloat and “blob out” when you bring them into the lower pressures at the surface of the sea. Back home in the deep sea, the blobfish ain’t so blobby. In fact, they actually look pretty unextraordinary, perhaps even handsome (maybe). You can see what they look like in their natural environment in the illustration below.
In case you were wondering what became of Mr. Blobby, he now lives in a jar of highly concentrated alcohol at the Australian Museum’s Ichthyology Collection, still proud of his legacy as the world’s ugliest animal.