When you hear the word “blobfish,” you probably think of the viral image of a sickly pink, spherical fish with a bulbous nose. However, blobfish only look like this when they are quickly pulled up from their homes on the sea bottom and suffer extreme tissue damage because of the change in pressure. In the wild, blobfish look like the one in this image, quietly floating above the ocean floor and steering with their rudder-like tail. I hope this image will give people a new perspective on the blobfish and encourage them to do further research on viral images.
A few years ago, the blobfish became a viral sensation after the Ugly Animal Preservation Society declared it “The World’s Ugliest Animal.” The internet became saturated with photos of a nearly spherical, gelatinous fish with sickly pink skin and a bulbous nose. Many decried the fish as hideous, while others found it cute. Artists from all over created renditions of the fish using bright color palettes and soft curves.
However, these photos and artworks do not accurately depict the blobfish. Blobfish have a large head covered with small protrusions, large, fanlike side fins, and a rudder-like tail. Their body is mostly grey and white with some blue-green on their fins. In reality, the blobfish is not ugly at all. Why does the blobfish in its habitat look so different than the one in popular images?
The answer has to do with the pressure within the abyssal zone, which is 60 to 120 times the pressure at sea level. In such high-pressure conditions, swim bladders, gas filled organs that help fish control buoyancy, would make the blobfish more susceptible to the adverse effects of pressure. Instead, they rely on their gelatinous tissue, which is just slightly less dense than water, to control their buoyancy. When blobfish are caught by trawling and rapidly pulled up to the water’s surface, their tissue rapidly expands, causing organ damage and in most cases death. This organ damage is what leads to a pink, spherical appearance and bulbous nose, common in popular depictions. The common image of a blobfish is based off of blobfish corpses and does not depict the reality of the fish in their environment.
There are more images of dead fish because photos of bycatch only require an iPhone camera, while images of living blobfish require submarines and special cameras. Many people do not do further research and assume that blobfish look like their corpses. The blobfish’s appearance is one small example of how truth can be distorted unintentionally due to mass media, and my hope is that my piece can provide an alternate image and help combat misinformation.
To ensure the anatomical accuracy of my work, I referenced many images taken of Bob the Blobfish, who resides at Aquamarine Fukushima, and video from the E/V nautilus, which filmed wild blobfish. I chose a light coming above to make it seem as if a human submarine had just stumbled across the fish. I chose to set my blobfish on an angle to make it look much more dynamic than the typical photos, which center blobfish. I chose warm grays and green-blues to make the fish seem more familiar and friendlier and a purple background to highlight the mystery of these deep-sea fish. Finally, I made the focal point the blobfish’s bright eye to emphasize that this fish is alive.