60 Million Fish Nests in Antarctica Found in Single Largest Breeding Colony to Date

Scientists onboard an icebreaker in Antarctica were blown away when they spied a trove of 60 million icefish nests dotting the ground of the Weddell Sea. The bonanza of nurseries – every single guarded by a ghostly hunting dad or mum – represents the major recognized breeding colony of fish.


Autun Purser of the Alfred Wegener Institute was on the bridge of the German icebreaker, known as the RV Polarstern, holding look at for whales when his graduate college student, Lilian Böhringer, who was checking the camera feed referred to as up to the bridge.

Just one of the ship’s missions was to observe the seafloor of the Weddell Sea, and exclusively, Böhringer was viewing a dwell video feed from the Ocean Ground Observation and Bathymetry Process (OFOBS), which is a a single-ton camera towed powering the ship.

On the movie feed, Böhringer could see fish nests pockmarking the seafloor about each individual 10 inches (25 centimeters) in all directions and masking an place of 93 square miles (240 sq. kilometers).

“The digital camera was moving [across the seafloor] and it just didn’t quit. They had been everywhere,” Böhringer told Dwell Science.

The nests ended up modest bowls carved in the mud on the seafloor by notothenioid icefish (Neopagetopsis ionah), which are indigenous to the chilly southern oceans. They are the only recognised vertebrates to absolutely absence hemoglobin in their blood. Due to the fact of this, icefish are regarded as “white-blooded.”


“We realized soon after ringing up the home institute the next working day that we had uncovered one thing spectacular,” Purser said.

Following the first discovery, the team built subsequent passes in excess of the internet site, towing the digicam at a shallower depth to get a broader view of the colony.

Icefish tend to nest in groups, but “the most at any time found prior to was forty nests or some thing like that,” mentioned Purser. This nesting web site, just after considerable surveying, has an estimated 60 million nests. “We have under no circumstances observed everything like this,” Purser additional. 

Most of individuals nests have been attended by one particular grownup fish watching above an normal of 1,700 eggs. 

The researchers have been in the normal location mainly because they ended up studying an upwelling of drinking water that was 3.6 levels Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) hotter than the bordering h2o. “Our intention was to see how carbon goes from the floor to the seafloor and what communities are in the water column,” claimed Purser. 

Intermixed with the nests ended up fish carcasses. (AWI OFOBS team)

Within the upwelling column of drinking water, they observed microscopic zooplankton in the vicinity of the floor, in which youthful icefish, immediately after hatching, swim to feast on the floating buffet ahead of returning to the seafloor to breed. For the reason that of the foods, the presence of icefish in the upwelling was to be envisioned. A breeding colony quite a few orders of magnitude bigger than at any time observed in advance of, having said that, was not. 

In addition to dwelling fish guarding nests, the group discovered that the location was littered with fish carcasses as very well, suggesting that this substantial icefish colony is an integral portion of the local ecosystem, most very likely serving as prey for Weddell seals. 


The discovery of the colony has led to an energy to make it a Maritime Protected Area underneath the international Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Maritime Dwelling Resources.

Oddly, the icefish colony would seem to have a distinctive border. “[The colony] went from incredibly, quite dense to almost nothing, a great deal like penguin colonies,” said Purser. “It was like a line in the sand.”

That “line in the sand,” they located, was the outer edge of the warm upwelling. While much more investigation is necessary to establish no matter if this is coincidental, the upwelling appears to build a unusual and ideal atmosphere for the icefish to breed.

Ahead of leaving the spot, the crew of the Polarstern remaining two cameras to notice the internal workings of this unusual ecosystem. Purser options to return to the Weddell Sea in April 2022.

“You can find undoubtedly lots to be uncovered,” claimed Purser.

This examine was released on the net January 13 in the journal Recent Biology.

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