Ice Fishing

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Earlier this week, I went out on McMurdo Sound in a Piston-Bully vehicle, with Anne and Jill Petzel. We drove up to the Cape Evans area, to see the “fish huts” where they catch fish for their father (David Petzel). Petzel, of Creighton University, is studying the cold-weather adaptations of fish called Trematomus bernachii (looking at the salt levels in their blood).

T. bernacchii are bottom-scavengers, so the hooks are baited with unused bits of other T. bernacchii fish that have been dissected in the lab. See images:
Underwater Field Guide to Ross Island and McMurdo Sound, Antarctica

The fish huts are portable, like trailers, and can be dragged from location to location. They have wooden floors with a large square hole, positioned over the hole that has been drilled in the ice. The fish-huts have pre-way stoves, and windows, but blankets are placed over the windows, to keep them warm and dark. Looking down through the ice hole, light from outside the hut floods the ice hole with BLUE LIGHT. The bottom, in our location, was about 35 feet down, and we could make out a number of starfish, and giant nemertean worms (1-3 feet long). One worm had recently fed, and was visibly bloated, and wrapped into a complicated knot. Another longer nemertean worm moved quickly into view, moving much more rapidly than I expected. The sea floor was dark and greenish-black, but it was difficult to make out details.

Our hooks were weighted with several bolts, to help them drop to the bottom, but a strong tidal current pulled our lines almost out of sight. It difficult to see what was happening. Apparently, ice fishing requires great patience in Antarctica, too. Somewhere on the dark bottom, T. bernacchii were busy nibbling the bait off the hooks – we got a few tugs and false hits, but the fish were clearly not interested in being studied.

Overall, I thought it was a lot like fishing for words….

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