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2014 mission in the Antarctic: a step backwards or a new sense of wonder?

Palmer Station, Antarctica © M.Gitzels
2014 mission in the Antarctic: a step backwards or a new sense of wonder?

Late January 2014. I’ve been called on once again to take part in the work of the team of Dr. Detrich of Northeastern University. His project, which is getting financial support from the National Science Foundation and the United States Antarctic Program, aims to study the effect of temperature on the developmental mechanisms during the embryonic state of two species of fish exclusive to the Antarctic regions. Those species, hyper-adapted to the conditions of extreme cold, account for up to 94 percent of the fishing effort’s catches. The efforts of the research team on Chaenocephalus aceratus and Notothenia coriiceps have to date produced only fragmentary results. Last year my few weeks there simply allowed me to participate in activities involving experimental fishing and management of captive populations: hormonal injections to accelerate gonad development, development of disinfection, fertilization and incubation protocols, setting up the incubation room – in short, everything that comes before getting eggs, without being able to attend laying, fertilization and incubation activities (see my earlier posts).

An extended stay

This time I’m offered a six-month stay, “all-included,” nothing less. My expertise is required to contribute to, among other things, improving the science of animal husbandry targeting production of C. aceratus (the blackfin icefish), N. coriiceps (the black rockcod) and if possible N. rossii (the marbled rockcod) and Pseudochaenichthys georgianus (the South Georgia icefish). The crux of the issue with the blackfin icefish is essentially the significant improvement of the conditions of catch and of maintenance in captivity so that females can complete their ovarian maturation (production of eggs suitable for fertilization) and males can produce milt (seminal fluid), when the time comes. The goal? Obtain quality gametes (eggs and sperm) in large quantities. As far as the black rockcod is concerned, this is a species far from being domesticated, but it’s hardy and easy to breed in captivity, given some knowledge of advanced aquaculture and a certain technical expertise.

Come back, don’t come back?

I give myself a week to deliberate and to consult my crowd. Six months, that’s something that bears thinking about! But I can’t resist the call: the thirst for adventure, the change of scene and the professional challenge all entice me. With the support of the Friends of the Montréal Biodôme Society and management, I’m on my way. After being examined and vaccinated left, right and center, I get my medical authorization from the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) and make my reservations Montréal – Miami – Santiago – Punta Arenas (Chile). I leave on April 7 and will be back in Montréal on October 28, 2014, 204 days later. The equivalent of 4,896 hours or 293,760 minutes. I miss you already...

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