Largest ever fish colony hosts 100 billion eggs under Antarctic ice

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In the Weddell Sea adjacent Antarctica, scientists person recovered the largest colony of food nests successful the world, covering 240 quadrate kilometres

Life 13 January 2022

By Jason Arunn Murugesu

New Scientist Default Image

Adult icefish sitting connected their nests nether the crystal successful Antarctica

Alfred Wegener Institute / PS124 AWI OFOBS team

The largest colony of food nests ever seen has been discovered nether an crystal support successful the Weddell Sea adjacent Antarctica.

Autun Purser astatine the Alfred Wegener Institute successful Germany and his colleagues discovered the breeding crushed by accidental erstwhile they went connected a six-week expedition to the polar portion successful February 2021.

They were connected committee RV Polarstern, a monolithic polar exploration vessel designed to navigate icebergs by breaking done them. Purser’s occupation was to way a camera down the vessel to representation the seafloor. “It’s a mean Canon camera you tin bargain successful immoderate shop… it’s conscionable housed successful a €3.5 cardinal frame,” helium says.

The researchers were doing a regular investigation of the seafloor erstwhile they stumbled upon thousands of nests made by Jonah’s icefish (Neopagetopsis ionah), a benignant of tiny ray-finned food typically recovered successful the Southern Ocean. “And past we kept moving for 4 hours and kept seeing much food nests,” says Purser.

The nests look similar bluish circles connected the seafloor and are each astir 15 centimetres deep.

The researchers past spent the adjacent 4 days documenting the colony. “Some days, we would beryllium travelling for up to 19 hours,” says Purser.

He and his colleagues estimation that the colony has much than 60 cardinal nests and covers astatine slightest 240 quadrate kilometres. “It looked machine generated however structured these nests were,” says Purser. Each nest had 1 big food and astir 1500 to 2000 eggs. “We don’t cognize however agelong they instrumentality earlier they hatch oregon adjacent however galore volition survive,” helium says.

While researchers person observed this taxon of icefish before, they person lone been seen successful tiny colonies. We cognize precise small astir the fish, says Purser.

“I went connected an expedition to this portion astir 25 years agone and 1 of the large questions past was wherever bash these icefish breed,” says Katrin Linse astatine the British Antarctic Survey. “Finding an assemblage connected this standard is conscionable mind-blowing to me.”

Purser and his squad besides recovered a deserted icefish nest astir 20 kilometres distant from the colony, which they judge is decades old. It is unclear wherefore oregon however often the food determination their breeding spots. The researchers person near 2 cameras connected the seafloor adjacent the progressive nests to effort to seizure footage of the eggs hatching.

Journal reference: Current Biology, DOI: j.cub.2021.12.022

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