Biology of Antarctic Fishes


The archive is now available! from the PolarConnect live event with PolarTREC Teacher Paula Dell and the research team which was held on Friday, 27 May 2011.

What Are They Doing?

Antarctic icefish are uniquely adapted to life in the extreme conditions of the Southern Ocean. Waters surrounding Antarctica are unlike any other, they are isolated, very cold, have large amounts of dissolved oxygen, and have low numbers of competing animals.

Because of this unique environment, the icefish have evolved with some interesting traits. They do not have a swim bladder, and they spend much of their time near the ocean floor. To help them survive in the very cold waters, they have antifreeze proteins in their blood and body that keep their cells from freezing. Because of the high oxygen content in Antarctic waters, the icefish are able to survive with lower amounts of hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen to the rest of the body, than other fishes.

Scientists believe that the unique characteristics of icefish cell structure may be connected to how well they are able to withstand increases in ocean temperature. Because of this, Antarctic icefish may signal the impacts of climate change on the water temperature of the Southern Ocean.

The research team captured the icefish by trawling from the R/V Laurence M. Gould. After catching them, they placed the icefish in tanks at Palmer Station. By changing water conditions in the tanks, the team studied the fishes tolerance to changing conditions. They also took tissue samples from the fishes for future experiments at their home institutions.

Where Are They?

Members of the research team boarded the Research Vessel (R/V) Laurence M. Gould in Punta Arenas, Chile for a four-day voyage to Palmer Station, Antarctica. While on board, the team trawled and captured fish to study at the station. Palmer Station is located on Anvers Island midway down the Antarctic Peninsula. It is operated by the U.S. Antarctic Program and is one of three United States research stations located in Antarctica. During the austral summer around 40 people live and work at the station, with that number going down to between 15 and 20 during the winter months.


Punta Arenas, Chile
Here we are back in Chile and one continent closer to home. It was a beautiful day so we went for a walk. It was great to stretch our legs after being on the boat coming across the Drake Passage. Punta Arenas is a nice place to wander around. The cemetery is amazing and the hills give you a beautiful view of the area. Lisa, Irina, and Kristin look out over Punta Arenas pondering the last couple of months. We had a fantastic time. As you can see from the smile on my face, this was a great trip. While I'm sorry it's over, I am ready to get back home. While we were at port, the R/V...
Soaking up the Chicago Sun
How ironic that my last journal is on the Summer Solstice after spending 2 months in the Antarctic winter! The sun feels great!! (What the solstice means is a great thing to look up and find out why this is the longest day of the year, by the way.) Two of my fellow teachers, Andy Long and RyAnn Nelson-Jaiyesimi, join me in soaking up some summer sun. I got back in time to catch some of my co workers, but the students were already out enjoying summer break. Guess I'll have to wait until August to see them. But let's get to what you have all been waiting for...breaking news about the...
Dr. Matt Cottrell, Palmer Station, Antarctica
That's what microbial oceanography is. And that is the last project at Palmer Station that I will be reporting on before I reveal our findings on the icefish and thermal tolerance. Near last, but not least. Did you know that there are 1 billion, yes billion, bacterial cells in a liter of ocean water? Do you know how big a billion is? Let's get some perspective. A billion seconds ago? Take a guess. That's almost 32 years, so like around 1972, A billion hours ago was the Stone Age. Get the picture? A LOT. Here is Dr. Matt Cottrell in the lab down in Antarctica. Photo courtesy of Lisa Crockett...
Jeff Grimm and Paula Dell preserving fish eggs, Palmer Station
First my apologies for the sporadic entries; the Internet on the high seas is sporadic. I mean, if you think about it, I'm lucky to be able to post any thing at all from the middle of the Drake Passage! Really - have you looked at a map lately? Luckily we have had unbelievably smooth sailing across what is considered one of the most turbulent sea ways on the planet. Our smooth sailing has a name - Drake Lake. And while that is great, I have to admit I thought it would be kind of cool to see some of those huge swells that I hear so much about. But as they say - be careful what you wish for, it...
Fish Printing at Palmer Station, Antarctica
Pronounced ghee - o - tah - koo. Gyo referring to fish, taku referring to impressions. The art of Japanese fish printing. I am told that this art was developed in Japan over 100 years ago to record trophy fish catches. Pretty creative if you don't have a camera. Gyotaku is yet another skill I have picked up while in Antarctica. At least I think I was getting the hang of it. There were some fish who didn't survive the transport back to the station from our fishing trips. Instead of immediately disposing of them we froze them for an evening of fish printing. So, instead of serving scientific...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

Dates: 9 April 2011 to 12 June 2011
Location: Palmer Station, R/V Laurence M. Gould
Project Funded Title: Thermal Tolerance of Antarctic Notothenioid Fishes

Meet the Team

Paula Dell's picture
Lindblom Math and Science Academy
Chicago, IL
United States

Paula is a national board certified science teacher at Lindblom Math and Science Academy in Chicago, Illinois. Ms. Dell developed a close working relationship with the Chicago Shedd Aquarium's education department during an excursion to study plant and animal life in the Bahamas, and works with them on many projects, including setting up an underwater remote operated vehicle (ROV) club at Lindblom. Ms. Dell believes that scientific exploration, in its many diverse forms, is a crucial step in understanding the world in which we live and in understanding the evolution of diversity and intricacy of organisms, environmental influences, and their interconnections. Ms. Dell is a strong proponent of teaching science through inquiry and pushes her students to design their own labs, to think through problems as a team, and propose explanations based on the evidence they collect. Just like "real" scientists.

Kristin OBrien's picture
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Fairbanks, AK
United States

Kristin O'Brien is an associate professor of biology at the Institute of Arctic Biology within the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Her research is aimed at understanding how fishes maintain energy production at cold temperatures. She investigates the unique physiological and biochemical adaptations that have arisen in Antarctic fishes during their evolution in the icy cold waters of the Southern Ocean. Learn more about Dr. O'Brien and her work here.

Bruce Sidell's picture

Dr. Bruce Sidell, co-Principal Investigator on this research project, died of cancer on February 8, 2011 at the age of 62. Bruce was a Professor of Marine Sciences at the University of Maine in Orono for 34 years, where he was also the founding Director of the School of Marine Sciences. Bruce was an international leader in the field of comparative physiology and the biochemistry of fishes and conducted research on Antarctic notothenioid fishes for 25 years. He made numerous contributions the field of Antarctic fish physiology, particularly in areas of lipid metabolism, the importance of intracellular lipids in oxygen diffusion, the expression pattern and function of myoglobin in Antarctic icefishes, and most recently, the thermal tolerance of notothenioid fishes. Bruce was passionate about the Antarctic. He enjoyed working on the back deck of the R/V Laurence M. Gould as much as at the lab benches of Palmer Station, and was equally skilled and at home in both places. Bruce contributed significantly to the development of resources for Antarctic science through his work on the Antarctic Research Vessel Oversight Committee and Palmer Area Users Committee. In 2010, Bruce's longstanding commitment to Antarctic science was recognized when the U.S. Geological Service and National Science Foundation named 'Sidell Spur', a feature on Brabant Island in the Antarctic, in his honor. Bruce was an outstanding mentor to many young scientists, several of whom continue working in the Antarctic because of his inspiration and dedication to their training.

Lisa Crockett's picture
Ohio University
Athens, OH
United States

Lisa Crockett is an associate professor of physiology in the Department of Biological Sciences at Ohio University. Lisa's primary interests are in metabolic cold adaptation and how membrane compositions are reorganized with variations in body temperatures. Lisa first began working in Antarctica as an undergraduate student with Dr. Art DeVries who discovered the antifreeze glycoproteins in Antarctic fishes. In addition to her role as collaborator in Antarctica, she also studies temperate fishes (e.g., striped bass, saltmarsh minnows and American eel) and the physiological and biochemical mechanisms that enable these animals to tolerate a wide range of temperatures and salinities. You can read more about her work here