Inosipmax via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

7 Unattractive Facts About Blobfish

Inosipmax via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

From hairy frogs to horse-faced bats, the world is full of unique-looking creatures. And then there’s the blobfish. When drawn up from its underwater habitat, Psychrolutes marcidus resembles of pile of disgruntled phlegm. Here are seven facts about the fish with a face only a mother could love.


Since 2003, one fish has served as the (unfortunate-looking) face of the animal: Mr. Blobby. The specimen was trawled up from its home more than 3300 feet deep by the crew of the NORFANZ expedition off the coast of New Zealand. Smitten scientists gave the blobfish his endearing nickname and snapped his now iconic picture, perfected by a mucousy parasite (a copepod) dangling from the corner of his mouth. Today Mr. Blobby is kept in a 70 percent ethyl alcohol solution at the Australian Museum. According to the institution, the preservation process has shrunk his nose, so he no longer looks as “cute” as he used to.


Rachel Caauwe via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Most people familiar with the blobfish have only seen images of the sad, flaccid monstrosity out of water. But at the bottom of the ocean—where the fish is actually meant to be—it’s much easier on the eyes. Blobfish are typically found 2000 to 4000 feet beneath the ocean’s surface. At those depths, inhabitants experience up to 120 times the pressure they would on dry land. Blobfish don’t have much bone or muscle, instead allowing the extreme pressure of the deep sea to provide their bodies structural support.


To stay buoyant, most fish have something called a swim bladder. These internal air sacs allow fish to maneuver through the water without sinking. Such an organ would burst under the pressures of the deep ocean, so instead blobfish rely on their gelatinous flesh to keep them barely floating above the seafloor. This means that when blobfish are taken out of the ocean, they don’t need to worry about rapidly expanding swim bladders pushing their guts out through their mouths. What it does mean is that the same skin that provides them with natural buoyancy underwater relaxes into a flabby mess without pressure.


There isn’t much food to come by at the bottom of the ocean, so the blobfish has evolved to conserve its energy. It spends most of its time chilling above the seafloor, only moving to open its mouth when something edible approaches. This is an effective hunting method for a creature with barely any muscle. Some of the food it catches includes crabs, mollusks, and sea urchins.


When the Ugly Animal Preservation Society was in need of a new mascot, they decided to let the people select one for them. In September 2013, over 3000 online votes were cast for the “World’s Ugliest Animal,” with the blobfish racking up 795 of them. It bested the proboscis monkey, the aquatic scrotum frog, and pubic lice for the top honor. According to the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, the blobfish gives a voice to the “mingers who always get forgotten.”


Rather than recoiling from this animal in disgust, the world (or at least the internet) has come to embrace the blobfish. It’s inspired songs, poems, plush dolls, and t-shirts. There’s even a blobfish cafe set to open in London in summer 2017. According to the cafe's website, the space will feature a pressurized tank containing three live blobfish named Barry, Lorcan, and Lady Swift.


Because blobfish live thousands of feet below sea level, there’s still a lot we’ve yet to learn about these JELLO-like members of the animal kingdom. Scientists still don’t know how long blobfish live or how they reproduce. On that last point, the Australian Museum’s fish manager Mark McGrouther told Smithsonian last year, “I’d guess they lock in a clinging, rather conjugal embrace.”

Whale Sharks Can Live for More Than a Century, Study Finds

Some whale sharks alive today have been swimming around since the Gilded Age. The animals—the largest fish in the ocean—can live as long as 130 years, according to a new study in the journal Marine and Freshwater Research. To give you an idea of how long that is, in 1888, Grover Cleveland was finishing up his first presidential term, Thomas Edison had just started selling his first light bulbs, and the U.S. only had 38 states.

To determine whale sharks' longevity, researchers from the Nova Southeastern University in Florida and the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program tracked male sharks around South Ari Atoll in the Maldives over the course of 10 years, calculating their sizes as they came back to the area over and over again. The scientists identified sharks that returned to the atoll every few years by their distinctive spot patterns, estimating their body lengths with lasers, tape, and visually to try to get the most accurate idea of their sizes.

Using these measurements and data on whale shark growth patterns, the researchers were able to determine that male whale sharks tend to reach maturity around 25 years old and live until they’re about 130 years old. During those decades, they reach an average length of 61.7 feet—about as long as a bowling lane.

While whale sharks are known as gentle giants, they’re difficult to study, and scientists still don’t know a ton about them. They’re considered endangered, making any information we can gather about them important. And this is the first time scientists have been able to accurately measure live, swimming whale sharks.

“Up to now, such aging and growth research has required obtaining vertebrae from dead whale sharks and counting growth rings, analogous to counting tree rings, to determine age,” first author Cameron Perry said in a press statement. ”Our work shows that we can obtain age and growth information without relying on dead sharks captured in fisheries. That is a big deal.”

Though whale sharks appear to be quite long-lived, their lifespan is short compared to the Greenland shark's—in 2016, researchers reported they may live for 400 years. 

Animal Welfare Groups Are Building a Database of Every Cat in Washington, D.C.

There are a lot of cats in Washington, D.C. They live in parks, backyards, side streets, and people's homes. Exactly how many there are is the question a new conservation project wants to answer. DC Cat Count, a collaboration between Humane Rescue Alliance, the Humane Society, PetSmart Charities, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, aims to tally every cat in the city—even house pets, The New York Times reports.

Cities tend to support thriving feral cat populations, and that's a problem for animal conservationists. If a feline is born and grows up without human contact, it will never be a suitable house cat. The only options animal control officials have are to euthanize strays or trap and sterilize them, and release them back where they were found. If neither action is taken, it's the smaller animals that belong in the wild who suffer. Cats are invasive predators, and each year they kill billions of birds in the U.S. alone.

Before animal welfare experts and wildlife scientists can tackle this problem, they need to understand how big it is. Over the next three years, DC Cat Count will use various methods to track D.C.'s cats and build a feline database for the city. Sixty outdoor camera traps will capture images of passing cats, relying on infrared technology to sense them most of the time.

Citizens are being asked to help as well. An app is currently being developed that will allow users to snap photos of any cats they see, including their own pets. The team also plans to study the different ways these cats interact with their environments, like how much time pets spend indoors versus outdoors, for example. The initiative has a $1.5 million budget to spend on collecting data.

By the end of the project, the team hopes to have the tools both conservationists and animal welfare groups need to better control the local cat population.

Lisa LaFontaine, president and CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance, said in a statement, “The reality is that those in the fields of welfare, ecology, conservation, and sheltering have a common long-term goal of fewer free-roaming cats on the landscape. This joint effort will provide scientific management programs to help achieve that goal, locally and nationally."

[h/t The New York Times]


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