Fate of world’s ‘ugliest’ fish unknown, presumed miserable

By John Upton

The blobfish routinely ranks high in publishers’ “ugliest animals” lists. But its maligned existence is as mysterious as the creature is aesthetically challenged.

The fish live along the floor of the ocean off Southeastern Australia,  leading generally lethargic lives and grabbing at passing sea urchins and mollusks. These deep-sea creatures share similar habitats with lobsters and crabs. They are often plucked from the ocean as by-catch by fishermen targeting the nearby crustaceans with their trawlers.

Illustrated by Perry Shirley.
Illustrated by Perry Shirley.

A flurry of news articles appeared a few years ago warning that the destructive trawling practices had left the blobfish in danger of extinction. Problem is, the fish is so rarely encountered by humans and it has been studied so little by scientists that nobody really knows how it’s faring.

“The assertion that the blobfish is threatened is the overlap of its small geographic range and habitat with the areas hit hard by deep sea bottom trawling,” said University of York Professor Callum Roberts, a marine conservation biologist whose research focuses on human impacts on marine ecosystems, “and the fact that it seems to be rare.”