“Unprecedented” and “Huge” Serendipitous Discovery of 60 Million Icefish Nests

(p. D3) As soon as the remotely operated camera glimpsed the bottom of the Weddell Sea, more than a thousand feet below the icy ceiling at the surface, Lilian Boehringer, a student researcher at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, saw the icefish nests. The sandy craters dimpled the seafloor, each the size of a hula hoop and less than a foot apart. Each crater held a single, stolid icefish, dark pectoral fins outspread like bat wings over a clutch of eggs.

Aptly named icefishes thrive in waters just above freezing with enormous hearts and blood that runs clear as vodka. . . .

The sighting occurred in February 2021 in the camera room aboard a research ship, the Polarstern, which had come to the Weddell Sea to study other things, not icefish. It was 3 a.m. near Antarctica, meaning the sun was out but most of the ship was asleep. To Ms. Boehringer’s surprise, the camera kept transmitting pictures as it moved with the ship, revealing an uninterrupted horizon of icefish nests every 20 seconds.

. . .

The nests persisted for the entire four-hour dive, with a total of 16,160 recorded on camera. After two more dives by the camera, the scientists estimated the colony of Neopagetopsis ionah icefish stretched across 92 square miles of the serene Antarctic sea, totaling 60 million active nests. The researchers described the site — the largest fish breeding colony ever discovered — in a paper published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

“Holy cow,” said C.-H. Christina Cheng, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, who was not involved with the research. “This is really unprecedented,” she said. “It is crazy dense. It is a major discovery.”

. . .

“The seafloor is not just barren and boring,” Dr. Purser said. “Such huge discoveries are still there to be made, even today in the 21st century.”

For the full story, see:

Sabrina Imbler. “Deep in Frigid Waters, Icefish Colonies Thrive.” The New York Times (Tuesday, January 18, 2022): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 13, 2022, and has the title “‘Major Discovery’ Beneath Antarctic Seas: A Giant Icefish Breeding Colony.”)

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