Scientists find huge nesting site with 60 million icefish nests near Antarctica

In the ice-covered Weddell Sea near Antarctica, German scientists have made a very exceptional find: they stumbled upon a gigantic breeding ground for ice fish, with no fewer than 60 million nests. It is a unique and hitherto unknown ecosystem that covers an area the size of Malta.

It wasn’t to find those icefish nests that the scientists from the German research vessel Polarstern circumnavigated the Weddell Sea in February 2021. But when they suddenly stumbled upon it during their research, they were perplexed.

“We saw nest after nest after nest for four hours, and in that time we covered a distance of six kilometers,” said Autun Purser, lead author of the in Current Biology published study and postdoctoral researcher at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven. “I’ve been researching oceans for 15 years, but I’d never seen anything like it.”

Unique find

It concerns an ecosystem that had not been discovered until now, so a unique find. In total, more than 60 million ice fish nests were found. The ice fishing colony extends over an area of ​​150 square kilometers. So it is about the same size as Malta.

“It’s a very surprising discovery,” study researcher John Postlethwait of the University of Oregon told CNN. He did not participate in the study, but studies the fish daily. “A significant discovery too. The size of that biomass is unexpected for me.”

Ice fish are 43 centimeters long ray-finned fish with transparent blood and a skull that you can see through. They are the only vertebrates without red blood cells. To survive in such low temperatures, they have a protein in the blood that prevents ice crystals from growing. They make their nests in the sandy seabed by making a crater in it. Above each of those nests, at least one fish swims around to keep an eye on the 1,735 eggs inside.

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