Antarctic co-​​op: Adventures in fishing

This is a guest blog post by Eileen Sheehan, a bio­chem­istry stu­dent at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity who is on co-​​op at Palmer Sta­tion, Antarc­tica. She will pro­viding a series of guest blog posts about her co-​​op experience.

This is the story of my first Antarctic fishing adven­ture, in which we col­lected fish for all of our planned research exper­i­ments. It was a long and gru­eling night, but worth every minute of lost sleep.

Laurence M. Gould research vessel. <i>Photo courtesy of Eileen Sheehan.</i>

The Lau­rence

The Lau­rence M. Gould research vessel is a vibrantly red 70-​​meter ship equipped with labs and used by the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion for research in the Southern Ocean. We set out on a Sat­urday for Dall­mann bay, where we went pot fishing for our red-​​blooded species, N. cori­iceps and G. gib­ber­ifrons.


Neu­mayer Channel from the LMG. Photo cour­tesy of Eileen Sheehan.

To get there, we passed through a beau­tiful area called the Neu­mayer Channel. It’s sur­rounded by pic­turesque white moun­tains, ice­bergs, and the occa­sional sea animal. As we neared Dall­mann Bay, I actu­ally got to see a large ice float with about 12 fur seals lounging in the sun.


LMG marine techs preparing the pots to throw over­board. Photo cour­tesy of Eileen Sheehan.

We began drop­ping our (extremely large, bulky) pots around 2 p.m. Luckily we had a lot of assis­tance from the marine techs on board. They tied up a string of four pots and pushed each one indi­vid­u­ally overboard.

While the pots sat at the bottom of the bay, we headed over to Low Island, where we trawled the ocean floor for ice­fish, such as C. acer­atus. The net first went into the water at 10 p.m. but didn’t reach the bottom for another fif­teen min­utes. We then trawled along the sea floor for twenty min­utes, and it took another fif­teen or so for the net to reach the deck. Early on in the night when all four cups of coffee were fresh in my system, the wait time didn’t seem too bad. But as we approached 4a.m., the night began drag­ging on. At least we had our mid­night rations of ham­burgers and Twix bars to give us a bit more energy for the night ahead.

As we waited for our nets to reach the water’s sur­face, we suited up in our lovely Gorton’s fish­erman gear. For me, this included many layers of warm, water­proof clothing beneath a bright yellow rubber suit. Rubber gloves and rubber steal-​​toed boots also helped to keep us dry. We top it all off with a hard hat—the last thing that we would need while fishing is to have to deal with a con­cussed team member.


LMG marine techs pulling the trawl up onto the deck. Photo cour­tesy of Eileen Sheehan.

Once we got the net back on deck, the fun really began. We all ran to open it, spilling a huge amount of fish, sea stars, algae, skates, small octo­puses, you name it, onto the ship. We dug through it all looking for the fish species we wanted. Once we found our dif­ferent ice­fish and the occa­sional red-​​blooded species, we placed them in large foam buckets that we’d set up earlier. 

Once we were done dig­ging, the marine techs helped us clean up the remaining debris with our hands and, if you were lucky, a shovel. The other ani­mals just got tossed over­board back to their homes. Then, we moved the fish in their tem­po­rary buckets to the larger tanks on board. 

We tried our best to keep the number of fish in each tank low. Our ice­fish tend to be extremely sen­si­tive crea­tures, so it’s impor­tant that we ensure that we don’t over-​​pack the tanks with ani­mals.  We wouldn’t want them to stress as that can lead to ill­nesses and even death. The goal is to keep them alive so that way we can bring them back to the sta­tion and begin our experiments.

G. gibberifrons in a temporary foam bucket. Photo courtesy of Eileen Sheehan.

G. gib­ber­ifrons in a tem­po­rary foam bucket. Photo cour­tesy of Eileen Sheehan.


After every­thing was cleaned up, the net went back into the water to trawl again…and again and again for a total of 13 trawls yielding nearly 80 indi­vidual fish.

The next day we headed back to Dall­mann Bay to pick up the pots, which the marine techs col­lected with giant machines. When the pots finally emerged, we had to move quickly.  We car­ried each one to the center of the deck to open it and remove our fish and bait bags. Our fish were placed in tanks along with those from the trawls.

By the time we fin­ished removing all of the pots from the water, we had a few dozen fish. Between this trip and a few after it, we’ve col­lected more than fifty N. cori­iceps  and 99 G. gib­ber­ifrons as well. Need­less to say, we have plenty of our favorite red-​​blooded fish on hand now to begin experiments.

Once this 24-​​hour fishing bonanza was com­plete, we steamed our way back to Palmer Sta­tion.  When we reached the sta­tion, we were able to start the process of moving the fish into the sta­tion aquarium. But that’s a whole other process and adven­ture that I’ll share with you next week.