Science

Antarctic Animal Wonders

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The Antarctic Ice Fish. He’s awfully cute, isn’t he?

Okay, so everyone loves penguins. I certainly do. I can stare at the penguins at the Boston aquarium for hours, at times. Penguins are sort of the animal mascots for Antarctica. What about other Antarctic animals, though? In addition to the penguins, there are plenty of other impressive marine animals in Antarctica.

I am not a biologist nor do I pretend to be, but being a student at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute I have a fair number of marine biology friends. Recently, a friend of mine was telling me about how global warming is helping marine biologists study sea creatures in Antarctica. One of the reasons that Antarctic sea creatures interest me is because they demonstrate polar gigantism. Some species of marine animals are similar to those found in warmer parts of the ocean, but they can be much, much larger than the ordinary species. Other animals, such as the Antarctic ice fish pictured above, have special adaptations that allow them to do well in cold water. The Antarctic ice fish has no red blood pigments and no red blood cells, an adaptation that apparently helps this fish survive in cold waters (or so says the picture caption on CNN.com).

If you want to know more, ask a marine biologist. I plan to do just that… maybe as soon as at dinner tonight. Even with my limited information, though, I recognize that there are many wonder-inspiring animals in Antarctica, penguins included!

Evelyn

Evelyn is a geologist, writer, traveler, and skeptic residing in Cape Town, South Africa with frequent trips back to the US for work. She has two adorable cats; enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking; and has a very large rock collection. You can follow her on twitter @GeoEvelyn. She also writes a geology blog called Georneys.

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10 Comments

  1. Wow, I really want one of those fish! It's far too cute.

    This whole boom of newly found or described Antarctican creatures is fascinating. It's a shame that the enabling event had to be climate change! But I'm sure we'll still learn some very cool, very interesting things from the sorts of animals we're finding there. I'm looking forward to all the news coming from this study.

  2. It's not so much that the lack of hemoglobin helps them do well in subzero temperatures as that it's just particularly not necessary. The colder water gets, the higher the oxygen solubility, so the amount of oxygen dissolved in the plasma is sufficient. There are plenty of other fishes inabiting the same waters that do have hemoglobin.

  3. Expatria, I think keeping a fish like that is even more work than keeping tropical fish. Keeping the fish tank cooled to just below freezing has to weigh really heavy on the electric bill. Not to mention getting the entire tank sufficiently insulated so the rest of your home doesn't plunge to the same temperatures.

    As for (medieval) fantasy creatures, I think the reason it looks like that is because some of the best fantasy illustrations were made by people who know what works on animals and what doesn't. There's an interview on the Lord of the Rings DVD where this exact thing is mentioned. If you want creatures to be believable, you have to give them a role to fulfill within the food pyramid of the world/universe they reside in. You could easily go overboard with the spiky bits and the amount of teeth.

  4. I know, exarch, I've already resigned myself to the fact that I'll never own one of those fish unless I somehow modify a small freezer, and I don't have the technical skills for such wizardry. :( Oh well.

  5. Jeez, you know somehow I've gone my entire life without seeing that cool fish (get it cool, huh? cool? no- no one?). and also gone my entire life without knowing there is such a thing as polar gigantism.

    And yet at the same time I know that there are 4 different Robins (as in batmans sidekick) and that two of them have died but one vame back to life all evil and stuff.

  6. Expatria, I think keeping a fish like that is even more work than keeping tropical fish. Keeping the fish tank cooled to just below freezing has to weigh really heavy on the electric bill. Not to mention getting the entire tank sufficiently insulated so the rest of your home doesn’t plunge to the same temperatures.

    Imagine how tricky it would be to keep the water constantly aerated, to achieve the high oxygen concentration these fish require, while still keeping the water below the freezing point. You'd almost need a steady supply of arctic air.

  7. I suspect that we will see a great deal of new life and new adaptations due to global warming… well, maybe not *us* in particular, but you know what I mean.

    I just hope humans are as reasonable and adapt as well.

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