From certain angles, the blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus) looks like someone decapitated the comic strip character “Ziggy” and stuck fins on it. It makes one question stock phrases like “the beauty of nature.” But even less aesthetically pleasing animals deserve a chance to survive.
The Ugly Animal Preservation Society agrees. The organization, headed up by science communicator and TV host Simon Watt, recently held a contest to determine the ugliest animal in the world (and, by extension, choose its mascot). Watt enlisted comedians to craft video appeals for all of the nominees, and encouraged the public to vote. And now, the blobfish has emerged as the victor, beating out other bizarre animals like the pig-nosed turtle, the “scrotum frog” and the dromedary jumping slug.
The blobfish lives a relatively quiet life deep beneath the ocean off the coast of Australia. It’s not something you’d want to eat, but it gets caught up in fishing trawlers that drag nets behind them. Watt thinks trumpeting the dangers facing the blobfish and its ugly brethren may help underscore the need to conserve habitats, not just the prettiest animals.
Some of the runners-up in the competition include the pig-nosed turtle (Carettochelys insculpta), a threatened creature with, yes, a swine-like snout.
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The kakapo, another creature deemed just not ugly enough to win, is a flightless ground-dwelling parrot in New Zealand. Thanks to poaching and the introduction of animals like rats, ferrets and cats, the kakapo is almost completely wiped out; last year, researchers tallied just 126 individuals left.
The endangered proboscis monkey, which lives only on the island of Borneo (divided among the countries of Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia), has seen its habitat lost to development over the past half-century.
It seems almost too puerile to be true: not only is the “scrotum frog” known as “the scrotum frog” (though more formally as Telmatobius coleus), it lives in Lake Titicaca. It has large flaps of skin that help it breathe and give a bit of a testicular cast. Human development and introduced competitors have left the scrotum frog critically endangered.
Watt hopes the publicity from the ugly animal contest will convince people that conservation isn’t just for nature’s beauty queens.
"Our traditional approach to conservation is egotistical,” Watt told the BBC. "We only protect the animals that we relate to because they're cute, like pandas. If extinction threats are as bad as they seem, then focusing just on very charismatic megafauna is completely missing the point.”
"I have nothing against pandas," he says, "but they have their supporters. These species need help."
And truthfully, one has to keep the blobfish's ugliness in context. Sure, when taken out of its element, it looks like a pile of melted bubblegum. But what if giant alien scientists hauled you out of bed in the middle of the night and dumped you on a slab in some spaceship, shined all sorts of weird lights on you and took notes on you? You might win some award for ugliest Earthling.