Biology of Antarctic Fishes 2013

What Are They Doing?

Trawling catch in AntarcticaTrawling 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, AntarcticaPalmer 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.


Sun set on the Southern Ocean
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 lapsed photography in the depths. Sounds like a great challenge. They are back in their labs analyzing the data from this trip which, whatever they find, will be of interest and informative. The search for the secrets of the ice fish continue. I thought I would leave you with this great story that the...
ARSV Laurence M. Gould
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 waters. Open waters as in turbulent, swells, rocky, lots of movement. Which meant no time to grow our sea legs, as they are called. I don't think it helped any that the Gould, which is wonderfully seaworthy, had to have some wings added after she was built to correct some problems. She works great,...
Traverse tracks
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. These tractors can haul up to 12 bags of fuel each. The traverse has proven to be more cost effective that airlifting in supplies so the amounts of fuel being hauled has increased over the last few years. The technology has advanced as well. The fuel bags are made our of heavy duty molecular weight...
Traverse Caravan on Antarctic Continent
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 Ryan Wallace. You already know Ryan as the Marine Tech who was instrumental in launching our Fish Spy. Last year he did the Traverse. Every year there is a traverse across the continent from McMurdo station to South Pole stations. The primary reason is to get fuel to the remote South Pole station....
Lisa Crockett at Palmer Station
Lisa is taking a moment to admire our pretty spectacular view during our walk. You can see how icy the glacier is. Historically, this glacier has been covered in a good layer of snow and you could easily hike or ski on it. Geology around here is pretty fascinating. At Palmer Station we have an opportunity to see a slice of this. Sadly, we see more and more with the glaciers melting as quickly as they are. Lisa Crockett and I went for a walk in the backyard and part way up the glacier and found some cool stuff. Actually, Lisa, who has been working and researching in Antarctica for nearly 30...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

29 May 2013 to 7 July 2013
Location: Palmer Station and R/V Laurence M. Gould
Project Funded Title: Collaborative Research: Redox balance in Antarctic notothenioid fishes: do icefishes have an advantage?

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.

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

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