When it comes to conservation of rare and endangered animals, conservation groups and institutions tend to favor the more handsome species as emblems of their causes. This is understandable, we like looking at cute animals (and babies). Arguably, this “cuteness factor” is what makes us care about saving and protecting such creatures. But would we make the same effort to conserve an endangered species if it were, by all universal accounts, rather “ugly”?
Well, that bit of reverse psychology is exactly what the good folks at the Ugly Animal Preservation Society hope will call special attention to their cause. Case in point: the blobfish (Psychrolutes microporos) has now been officially declared “The World’s Ugliest Animal”.
The endangered, somewhat amorphous-looking fish (a type of sculpin) spends its time floating just above the deep sea floor (1013 m and 1340 m) — thanks to its gelatinous body which acts like a natural life-preserver. At that depth, the fish expends very little energy (maybe a candidate for ‘World’s Laziest fish” too?). The adult blobfish reaches a maximum length of about 12 inches (30 centimeters) and is native to the waters of coastal Australia (note: the blobfish — “Mr Blobby” — in the top photo was observed on the Norfolk Ridge, north-west of New Zealand, by the the crew of the RV Tangaroa).
Unfortunately, the inedible blobfish’s lethargic ways make it vulnerable to deep sea/high-volume fishing techniques and its numbers have dwindled dramatically. But it’s not just about the blobfish; other animals with less-than-photogenic phenotypes face similar existential peril (the fish had stiff competition from other ugly animals, like the proboscis monkey).
In a press statement by Simon Watt of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society:
“We’ve needed an ugly face for endangered animals for a long time and I’ve been amazed by the public’s reaction. For too long the cute and fluffy animals have taken the limelight but now the blobfish will be a voice for the mingers who always get forgotten.”
The Ugly Animal Preservation Society grew out of a collaborative endeavor by the British Science Association and the annual National Science + Engineering Competition. The society’s mission statement is as clear as it is good-humored: “raising the profile of some of Mother Nature’s more aesthetically challenged children.”
More About “Mr Blobby” [quoted from the Australian Museum website]
The scientists and crew on board the RV Tangaroa affectionately called this fish ‘Mr Blobby’. The fish’s body is flabby and not adapted to be out of water! The yellowish ‘blob’ on the right side of Mr Blobby’s mouth is a parasitic copepod.
Mr Blobby is psychrolutid fish (family Psychrolutidae). Fishes in this family are called the blobfishes or fathead sculpins. They are found in marine waters of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans at depths between 100 m and 2800 m. The common name ‘fathead sculpin’ refers to the large, globular head and ‘floppy’ skin that is typical of these fishes. Little is known of their biology. Some have been found with gastropods in the stomach.
The fish now resides in the Australian Museum Ichthyology Collection. It was initially fixed in formaldehyde and is now preserved in 70% ethyl alcohol. The fixation process has ‘tightened’ Mr Blobby’s skin so his ‘nose’ has shrunk and he no longer retains his ‘cute’ look.
Some source material for this post came from an article at The Week (via Yahoo News) titled: ‘Meet the blobfish: The newly crowned ‘ugliest animal in the world’ by Chris Gayomali
Top Photo: “Mr. Blobby” – Australian Museum; NORFANZ Founding Parties (via the cited reference above)