Fish, excursions and embryos

Pêche à Low Island
Fish, excursions and embryos

Back to the base

Crossing the Drake Passage was smooth, and punctuated by thick fogs. When I arrived in Palmer Station (64 77’S, 64 05’W, Anvers Island) after five days at sea and from my position on the second deck I saw some familiar faces among the people handling berthing operations. (I’m here for the second time to contribute to research on the effects of climate change – increasing temperature – on fish reproduction in the Antarctic.)

On board the Laurence M. Gould

Fishing activities are scheduled a few days after our arrival, and others will follow. In total, our group has been allocated 16 days of fishing. I won’t be part of the crew for the first two excursions since I have to make sure of the experimental set-up and oversee operations. My turn will come. I’ll be part of the expedition during which installation of GPS boundaries at Prospect Point will be combined with our activities – which means my feet will touch down on the Antarctic continent! My second excursion will take place above the Banana Trench (where average depths of 1,000 meters have been recorded), when we’ll be searching for the rarer species that frequent those abysses: grenadiers, certain species of icefish, and some Artedidraconidae (barbeled plunderfishes). Those fish will be sampled and identified in connection with the establishment of a genetic bank that our team will be contributing to.

As time goes by…

I’ve completed 65 percent of my stay at the Palmer base: I’ve been doing a regular countdown since I reached 50 percent. My health has been good, I’m taking my vitamin D supplements, going to the gym, and my spirits are high. I practice snowboarding on the glacier in the backyard, play the harmonica, and take introductory waltz classes when days off are declared, which isn’t often. Since the emergence of the ice cover I paradoxically feel imprisoned by the immensity. Sea trips have been suspended for quite a while because of ice and/or heavy winds.

I’m satisfied with my work so far as part of the scientific team, since we’ve produced a number of families of black rockcod (Nothothenia coriiceps) and most of them have turned out to be reliable at two temperature levels (>0 ºC and 4 ºC). My principal role here is to ensure that the critical stages of embryonic development go well and to properly align the samplings. Dr. Detrich will later evaluate the expression of certain genes, in connection with the complex choreography that organogenesis comprises in living beings (see photo), and above all he’ll be able to deduce just how the rise in temperature understood to be related to climate change will affect those mechanisms in the endemic species (meaning peculiar or exclusive to a region, a continent or a territory) that we’re studying. Those stages are: cell division (2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 cells, etc.), the appearance of the embryonic axis, the formation and pigmentation of the eyes, the first heartbeats, the formation and deployment of fins, muscle contraction, the formation of bones… I always feel privileged to have a front-row seat (see photo)! One thing to bear in mind: everything happens quite a bit more slowly in the cold…

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