A breeding colony of 60 million fish was discovered in the ice-covered Weddell Sea in Antarctica – a unique and hitherto unknown ecosystem that covers an area the size of Malta

The vast colony, considered the largest in the world, home to the remarkable icefish (Neopagetopsis ionah), who has a transparent skull and transparent blood. The icefish is the only vertebrate without red blood cells.

To survive such low temperatures, he has developed an antifreeze protein in his transparent blood that prevents the growth of ice crystals.

The breeding colony was discovered in February 2021 by the German polar research vessel Polarstern, which surveyed the seabed about half a kilometer below the ship. It used a car-sized camera system attached to the stern of the ship that transmits images up to the bridge while it is towed

The expedition focused on ocean currents and finding nests, distinguished from the muddy bottom by a circle of stones, was a surprise.

“We just saw fish nest after nest for four hours, and during this time, we covered about six kilometers of seabed”, said Autun Purser, postdoctoral researcher at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, in Germany. He is the lead author of a study on the icefish colony published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

“I had never seen anything like it in 15 years as an oceanologist”, Purser said. “After this dive, we emailed the experts ashore who know about fish like this They said, Yes, it's quite unique”

Four more camera dives revealed the spectacular extent of the breeding colony – and its striking uniform nature

“This is indeed a surprising discovery.”, declared John Postlethwait, professor of biology at the University of Oregon, who studies fish He did not participate in the research

“This is also important The extent of the biomass is for me at least unexpected And the extent to which the fish change the structure of the bottom of the sediments creates [a] habitat for a community that ripples the food web to support a wide variety of species “, he added.

The colony covers more than 240 square kilometers, according to researchers With an average of one nest per three square meters, they estimated the colony to be about 60 million active nests.

Each of the evenly spaced nests measured approximately 15 centimeters deep and 75 centimeters in diameter, contained on average 1 735 eggs Most were guarded by an adult fish Some nests contained only eggs, and some were not used

“Nest spacing is a bit like spacing birds on a telephone line”, added Postlethwait via email.

“Some animals like to be social, but there is a limit Gathering can give them advantages in finding partners, but provides a rich point source for predation”

Fish seem to be attracted to an area of ​​warmer water, which is approximately 2 ° C warmer than the surrounding seabed, which is a cold 0 ° C, Purser said. Sea water freezes at a lower temperature than fresh water

Researchers have deployed two camera systems to monitor icefish nests until a research vessel returns The hope is that photographs will capture more detail about the fish nest ecosystem

One question researchers want to answer is how long do adult fish hold eggs? – experts suspect it could take months – and if it was a man or a woman standing.

“It seems that the reproductive behavior of most, if not all, of icefish revolves around the courtship of females by the construction of a” Well “not”, said icefish expert H. William Detrich, professor emeritus of biochemistry and marine biology at Northeastern University, by e-mail He did not participate in the research

The results reveal an ecosystem unique in the world, according to researchers, and they say it should be designated as a protected area

“The implications for the conservation of this species are clear – a marine protected area should be established in the Weddell Sea to prevent the exploitation of this icefish species”, added Detrich.

While the Weddell Sea is covered in sea ice all year round, the ice is relatively thin – one meter thick – which means photosynthesis can still take place and life can thrive. which means photosynthesis can still take place and life can thrive, which means photosynthesis can still take place and life can thrive, corals, which means photosynthesis can still take place and life can thrive.

About 2 000 which means photosynthesis can still take place and life can thrive, did he declare, which means photosynthesis can still take place and life can thrive.

which means photosynthesis can still take place and life can thrive, which means photosynthesis can still take place and life can thrive “which means photosynthesis can still take place and life can thrive”.”

“I guess we only filmed about 1% of the Weddell Sea floor, and who knows what else lurks around the place I am convinced that there are many gaps in our knowledge of the seabed”

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Antarctic, Channichthyidae, Jonah's icefish

News – United States – Icefish colony discovered in Antarctica is world's largest fish breeding ground


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