A massive icefish breeding colony existed in secret in Antarctica – until now

A polar exploration exploration has discovered an unprecedented breeding colony of millions of fish in an icy Antarctic sea.

The extent of about 60 million Jonah’s ice fishing nests, believed to be the world’s largest known fish farm, extends over 92 square kilometers of the bottom of the Weddell Sea, according to The New York Times.

Adult icefish guard thousands of eggs.
Adult icefish guard thousands of eggs.

Icefish have no red blood cells – giving them transparent blood – and skulls that you can see through. Their clear blood also contains a special protein that prevents it from freezing.

The scientists who made the discovery, scientists from the German Alfred Wegener Institute aboard the RV Polarstern, were not particularly looking for ice fishing nests. But when they came across the nesting site, they knew they had found something special.

“I had never seen anything like it in 15 years as a marine scientist,” the researcher said Dr. Autun Purser told CNN. “After that dive, we sent an email to the experts on land who know about fish like this. They said, well, this is pretty unique.”

A typical nest had about 1,500 to 2,000 eggs, New Scientist reports. Purser told the publication that it is unclear how many of these eggs eventually hatch and survive, and that there is generally a lot about icefish that is still unknown.

Another ice fishing.

Most of the nests were guarded by an adult fish, but in some cases, one fish guarded several nests. Still other nests were empty or contained the carcass of a fish that died at its post. Fish that died in the middle of the nesting ground tended to just rot in place, while those that died closer to the edges were caught by animals such as starfish and squid.

Another animal that enjoys eating the ice fish is Weddell seal, a chubby, carnivorous mammal that can dive up to 2,000 feet into the ocean.

A Weddell seal that probably thinks of icefish.
A Weddell seal that probably thinks of icefish.

Xavier Hoenner / 500px via Getty Images

The researchers who discovered the ice fishing nests took a look at satellite tracking data on the seals and found that the nesting site is an important destination for Weddell seal dives.

“They’re eating a nice dinner,” Purser told the Times.

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