What Are They Doing?

Trawling catch in Antarctica
Trawling catch in Antarctica
Antarctic notothenioid fishes are uniquely adapted to life in the extreme conditions of the Southern Ocean. Waters surrounding Antarctica are unlike any other. The Southern Ocean is isolated from other oceans by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, it is very cold with temperatures at or near -1.8 degrees Celsius, and the water is rich in oxygen. Notothenioids have evolved many physiological traits that enable them to survive in this remarkable environment. They lack a swim bladder and have antifreeze proteins that prevent their bodies from freezing. Members of one family of notothenioids, the Channichthyidae (icefishes), are unique among all vertebrates because they lack the circulating oxygen-binding protein, hemoglobin.

The loss of hemoglobin is considered a neutral mutation; one that neither enhances nor reduces fitness. However, the team hypothesizes that the loss of hemoglobin may be an advantage because hemoglobin promotes the formation of reactive oxygen species that damage macromolecules. Overall, the team's research was aimed at understanding the unique physiological and biochemical traits that have arisen in fishes during their evolution in the chronically cold waters of the Southern Ocean.

Where Are They?

Palmer Station, Antarctica
Palmer Station, Antarctica
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 across the Drake Passage, infamously known for its rough seas. The team first traveled to Punta Arenas by plane and had to arrive two days prior to the ship leaving the dock to receive their cold weather field clothing. Palmer Station is operated by the U.S. Antarctic Program and is among the smallest of three United States research stations located in Antarctica. During the austral summer up to 44 people live and work at the station, with that number going down to between 15 and 20 during the winter months.

Latest Journals

A final sunset on the Southern Ocean on the way home. The Fish Spy and I have returned home safely, in one piece, and are already planning our next adventure. Dr. O'Brien and Dr. Crockett want us to design something for their next trip down to the ice that would enable them to film some time…
As we headed back north we didn’t take the customary route through the gorgeous channels and straits of Neumayer and Gerlasche. This was unfortunate for a couple reasons. Not only were we not treated to the beauty of that route, but equally important, it meant we went straight out into the open…
It's hard to explain the expanse and beauty down here and do it justice. Sometimes pictures come close, like this one showing the traverse tracks. Picture courtesy of Ryan Wallace. Let’s see…where did we leave off yesterday? We talked about the traverse and its primary mission to deliver fuel.…
Here's a shot of the traverse caravan on it's way to South Pole. The primary purpose of the traverse is to get fuel to South Pole station. That is Mount Erebus in the background. Photo courtesy of Ryan Wallace. Tomorrow we set sail back north. But tonight we were treated to a riveting talk by…
Palmer Station and R/V Laurence M. Gould
Project Funded Title
Collaborative Research: Redox balance in Antarctic notothenioid fishes: do icefishes have an advantage?
Related Expeditions
Paula Dell - Teacher
Lindblom Math and Science Academy

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 - Researcher
University of Alaska Fairbanks

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.

Lisa Crockett - Researcher
Ohio University

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

Biology of Antarctic Fishes 2013 Resources

Interview with PolarTREC teacher Paula Dell and her students from Lindblom Math & Science Academy about their underwater camera probe called "Fish Spy 2" to study icefish in Antarctica.

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Article featuring PolarTREC teacher Paula Dell (Biology of Antarctic Fishes 2011, 2013) and her students from Lindblom Math & Science Academy high school in Chicago, Illinois who have created a Fish Spy robotic camera to study icefish in Antarctica.

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This lesson focuses on adaptations as a driving force in evolutionary diversity. Adaptations are characteristics within a species that enhance its chances of survival and reproduction. Adaptations can be behavioral, structural, or functional. Students must understand that these adaptations are not acquired in the course of the organism’s lifetime, but are inherited traits that have been passed down

About 1 period
High school and Up
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This National Science Foundation Press Release details how PolarTREC teacher Paula Dell's students designed and built their own underwater camera rig to observe and record Antarctic Fish. Their device was successfully deployed this year in the waters off Antarctica.

All Aged
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