Polar cod embryotoxicity to crude oil water soluble compounds

Exper­i­ment Com­pleted: Three days ago, we com­pleted our exper­i­ment. It was not with­out a lot of work and some trou­bles on the way.

After a mass mor­tal­ity that seemed pretty much out of con­trol in all our incu­ba­tors and not at all dose related we were left with too few sam­ples. After barely a week of expo­sure (start of gas­tru­la­tion), we decided over a week-end (it always hap­pens then) to start from scratch again!!!

Not with­out a lot of doubts and ques­tions: Since our rock oiled sys­tem had been run­ning for a week already, con­cen­tra­tion is the water were already very diluted for this new start. Would we see any effects at all? Were we in such low lev­els that even sub-lethal effects would be tricky to see?

We needed to through away (well fix…) all the remain­ing eggs of exper­i­ment 1, to pre­pare the incu­ba­tors for the new batches. But the fish left in our tanks seemed almost all done with spawning…would we find enough of then for a new start? Were we going to throw all away and not get enough eggs and sperm?

We took our courage “under our arms” and just did it!

New strat­egy: Obvi­ously the egg qual­ity was very dif­fer­ent from female to female…basically spoil­ing all the incu­ba­tors if you mixed all the eggs of all avail­able females together. We thus sep­a­rated the eggs from incu­ba­tor to incu­ba­tor, hop­ing that at least some of the eggs would be of good qual­ity and not just die as soon as the devel­op­ment would reach a lit­tle more com­pli­cated stage than division…



And it worked, not with­out the (almost) loss of 2 out of 5 egg batches. But so far the data is really nice…not mor­tal­ity from the treat­ment, but clear sub-lethal effects (see fig). The pic­ture shows bach­e­lor stu­dent Antoine and col­league Mar­i­anne strip­ping polar cod on sun­day evening!

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The Fig­ure shows the larva from one batch of eggs (out of 5) at the end of the exper­i­ment (larva left after all pre­vi­ous sam­plings, etc). The blue bars are the per­cent­age larva free swim­ming in the incu­ba­tors, the red are those (still alive) mal­formed and lay­ing on the bot­tom of the incu­ba­tor. The num­bers on the bars are the total count of larva per incubator.

Click on this link and you will see the heart beat of our eggs: embry­otox



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Polar cod & Petroleum in a international meeting!

What is the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity doing these days in the Arc­tic? What are the chal­lenges and risks for Arc­tic ecosys­tems? What are the effects of petro­leum related com­pounds on eggs, larva, juve­niles and adults? Is the Arc­tic more sen­si­tive than other regions. We are cer­tainly not (yet) find­ing answers to these ques­tions… but by look­ing at a spe­cial Arc­tic fish — the polar cod– from all pos­si­ble angles, we hope to come a bit closer to the answers.

A fan­tas­tic oppor­tu­nity to share knowl­edge and develop new research ideas around this tiny but so impor­tant fish and the chal­lenges of man-made activ­i­ties in the Arc­tic. Click on the pic­ture to down­load the pre­lim­i­nary pro­gramme. Pass this on, every one is wel­come. If you would like to join, send an email to jasmine.m.nahrgang@uit.no

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2014´s most exciting experiment?

By Jas­mine

Yes­ter­day, we started one of the years most excit­ing experiment..the oiled polar cod embryo exper­i­ment!! I am right now start­ing my 15th hour at work for today (only an hour more than yes­ter­day) and the night is not over yet.… my sleep­ing bag is next to me just in case, but I do hope that I actu­ally can drive the 40km home to Tromsø in about 2 or 3 hours.


After the won­der­ful job Eka­te­rina and Mor­gan did, fish­ing polar cod in the Bar­ents Sea, the last few days have been punc­tu­ated by sleep­less nights won­der­ing whether our catch would spawn unex­pect­edly and thereby just throw away all our efforts to run an embry­otox­i­c­ity expo­sure in the begin­ning of February.

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The last few months, there has been a lot of peo­ple hard work­ing on the design of the study and the set up. The engi­neers at our bio­log­i­cal sta­tion have been doing a great job putting together incu­ba­tors and oiled-rock columns. The pic­ture above shows Mor­gan fill­ing the columns will oiled rocks, that Luca prepared.


Finally the ripe fish were just too ripe for us to dare post­pone the big day one week more: strip­ping and in vitro fer­til­iza­tion was on the timetable. The small group of Flem­ming, Luca, Mor­gan and myself spent much of yes­ter­day find­ing out what we may have for­got­ten for a suc­cess­ful start. We were both ner­vous and impa­tient. I spent quite some time draw­ing a scheme on how the fer­til­iza­tion would look like. How many eggs in that beaker, so much sperm into this vial … I drew the plan at least 4 times, just to make sure I new it by heart and it made sense.

Finally we started and it went just perfect.



Today, for the first time of my life, I saw fer­til­ized polar cod eggs, reach­ing the 2 cell cleav­age stage, and the four and now they are at 32 cells. They are so beautiful.…I feel like a mother.…sleepless nights tak­ing care of the newborn.

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Polar cod of the full moon

By Mor­gan Ben­der, Jan 25th 2014


Under a full moon in the midst of the polar night, I watch as ice­bergs from Kongs­breen dance around the float­ing buoys of our last bot­tom trawl for live polar cod. The result was mag­i­cal as much as planned and calculated.

Now three full tanks of Sval­bar­dian polar cod are slowly steam­ing aboard FF Helmer Hanssen to their new home in Tromsø. Col­lec­tion in Ripfjor­den, Bille­fjor­den, and Kongs­fjor­den aboard the polar night cruise from Jan­u­ary 5th to Jan 20th was suc­cess­ful. Trans­port to Tromsø has thus far been a gen­tle jour­ney; the sunrise/set on Bjørnøya was a wel­come sign of our south­ern progress.  How­ever, polar cod do not seem to enjoy the boat life of five o´clock cake and beau­ti­ful views as much as I do, so it will be nice to see them set­tled and curve the mor­tal­ity that is threat­en­ing future polar cod projects (my own Mas­ters included).


Most of the cod are ripe and ready spawn, I have my fin­gers crossed that they can wait a few more days until we reach Tromsø. It is quite impres­sive to see how much of their body cav­i­ties are ded­i­cated to gonads, mak­ing them look like pot-bellied baby sharks cruis­ing around the tank. Per­haps too much time with fish has let my imag­i­na­tion wander…


In any case, be pre­pared to wel­come hun­dreds (per­haps tens of hun­dreds) of polar cod to the POLARISATION team early Mon­day morn­ing when the FF Helmer Hanssen steams into the kai.



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A good start of a new year

By Eka­te­rina Korshunova

On the 2nd of Jan­u­ary Jas­mine called me and asked if I would like to join the cruise to Sval­bard to get live polar cod for her exper­i­ments in four days. I was pos­i­tively sur­prised and accepted the offer imme­di­ately. The cruise was led by Marit Reigstad and I was very happy to meet many nice peo­ple work­ing on her “Car­bon Bridge” project. I was also very glad that Sam would help me tak­ing care of polar cod.

We started our cruse from Longyear­byen on the 6th of Jan­u­ary and went directly to the North in order to cross the Atlantic cur­rent at about 810N. Unfor­tu­nately, there were some prob­lems with the instru­ments, and it took some time to adapt them to the cold. So Marit decided to go to Rijpfjor­den for polar cod in order not to lose the time. On the 8th of Jan­u­ary in the morn­ing we started trawl­ing. I expected the weather to be minus 20 degrees and wind, so I put on all the cloths that I had. The actual weather was quite mild and only minus 5 degrees, but this I found out after I went out­side. More­over, I was stressed to get as many fish as pos­si­ble and I did not really care how I looked like unless I saw this picture…


Yes, I looked like a ball, but I was warm and WE GOT POLAR COD! So, I and Sam were really happy!





Together with polar cod we got other fish species like had­dock, Atlantic cod, capelin, daubed shanny that we should dis­sect for stom­ach con­tent. The most dif­fi­cult part was to define all the species and to find the dif­fer­ences between polar cod and small Atlantic cod. But we were very lucky and got some help from the crew mem­ber Jan Roald.


We fin­ished the dis­sec­tion at 3 a.m. and were very tired. How­ever, in the night I could not sleep. It was a storm of about 20 m/s, and I really wor­ried about my polar cod, if they were ok in the tanks and would not swim away. Only in the evening the next day the storm was over and most of the polar cod for­tu­nately sur­vived it. I sent a pic­ture of a tank with fish to Jas­mine, and she wrote that it was very few fish and not enough for the exper­i­ments. So, Kongs­fjor­den was our next tar­get to get more polar cod.



On the way to Kongs­fjor­den we made a stop at Mof­fen to get some sam­ples of Ice­landic scal­lops from my PhD project. We used tri­an­gle dredge to take them from the bot­tom, and then we sorted them out from the sed­i­ments. I, hav­ing so many cloths on me, could do it only in the hor­i­zon­tal posi­tion. But I was still very warm and comfortable.


Almost all Ice­landic scal­lops caught at Mof­fen had huge amounts of bar­na­cles on their shells. The weight of the scal­lops with bar­na­cles was some­times four times more than with­out them.







13th of Jan­u­ary: Two days of the cruise left, but we still had about 200 polar cod in the tanks instead of 1000. Luck­ily, all the water sam­ples for “Car­bon Bridge” project were done and our small fish group (Sam and me) got a pos­si­bil­ity to trawl the whole night in Kongs­fjor­den until we got the desired amount of polar cod.

POOR PEOPLE who could not sleep that night because of our eight trawl­ing oper­a­tions… I am still very sorry. But we got only one trawl with polar cod. Our two tanks were full; how­ever, I did not give up get­ting even more in order to be sure that Jas­mine would be happy.

All our night trawls had dif­fer­ent fish species and lots of shrimps that we cooked and ate together with crew. Sam was happy as he got a lot of stom­ach sam­ples and made many fil­lets of Atlantic cod and hal­ibut for all his friends in Longyearbyen.

14th of Jan­u­ary: There was no more time to stay in Kongs­fjor­den. In the morn­ing Marit and I agreed to go towards Longyear­byen and try Bille­fjor­den as a last chance to get more polar cod. Thus, I had finally time to go to bed and sleep.

kat10In the evening the same day we approached Bille­fjor­den cov­ered with the sea ice. It was quite cold out­side, but we all were excited. We were def­i­nitely in the Arc­tic! Brrr…

In the night we got time to trawl again before com­ing back to the har­bor in Longyear­byen. Sam was really tired, and I decided not to wake him up when the first trawl came on the deck. I was alone with the crew and we were not quick enough. As the result, all the polar cod got frozen in the cod end. In the sec­ond trawl I was sure that we did not get any polar cod, I thought there were only small Atlantic cod and we threw the catch back to the sea. How­ever, when the crew mem­bers sorted shrimps for cook­ing they found only polar cod among the shrimps. These polar cod were not black as the ones from Rijpfjor­den and Kongs­fjor­den. They had a yel­low skin colour. But when I opened one of the fish and saw the big gonads, I did not have any doubts. It was polar cod! We filled our last tank with polar cod from Bille­fjor­den and in two hours we were already back in Longyearbyen.

It was an inter­est­ing and instruc­tive cruise for me. We did every­thing what we  were sup­posed to do. I would like to thank Marit Reigstad for a good orga­ni­za­tion and under­stand­ing all our pref­er­ences. I thank the crew mem­bers for the tech­ni­cal sup­port, main­te­nance of the tanks, trans­porta­tion of polar cod and the tasty shrimps that we cooked in the night. I thank all my nice and kind col­lo­quies who made this cruise won­der­ful and unfor­get­table. Last, but not least, I thank Jas­mine for giv­ing me the oppor­tu­nity to go on the cruise and start the New year so GOOD!


Pho­tos were taken by Rudi Caey­ers and Eka­te­rina Korshunova

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A new project within the Arctos network

COOPENOR (NRC project num­ber 225044) is a newly financed project within the Arc­tos research net­work that will start in Jan­u­ary 2013 and with a project period of 3 years. The project “COmbined effects Of Petro­leum and the Envi­ron­ment in bivalves from the NOrwe­gian–Russ­ian Arc­tic” will be led on the Nor­we­gian side by Dr Jas­mine Nahrgang at the Uni­ver­sity of Tromsø and by Dr Igor Bakhmet from the Insti­tute of Biol­ogy of the Kare­lian research Cen­tre on the Russ­ian side. 

Have look at the COOPENOR web site!

The project is funded both by the Nor­we­gian Research Coun­cil and the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion for Basic Research and under the NORRUSS pro­gramme with main aim to “facil­i­tate joint efforts to gen­er­ate knowl­edge and pro­vide a bet­ter basis for achiev­ing opti­mal, effi­cient resource uti­liza­tion and the design of solu­tions for reduc­ing the risk of dis­charges from petro­leum activ­i­ties and for pre­vent­ing pol­lu­tion and dam­age to the envi­ron­ment” (see link below).


Pic­ture show­ing blue mus­sel col­lected by Prof Jør­gen Berge in Svalbard.

COOPENOR is a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort to study the effects of con­t­a­m­i­nants and envi­ron­men­tal vari­abil­ity in the Nor­we­gian and Russ­ian Arc­tic, and will include one PhD stu­dent (Eka­te­rina Kor­shunova, employed at Akvaplan-niva) that will also work in close col­lab­o­ra­tion with a Russ­ian PhD stu­dent (Julia Luk­ina, employed at the North­ern Arc­tic Fed­eral Uni­ver­sity (NArFU) in Arkhangelsk). The over­all objec­tive of the project is to pro­vide new knowl­edge that will enhance the imple­men­ta­tion of com­pa­ra­ble tools and pro­to­cols for marine mon­i­tor­ing within the Nor­we­gian and Russ­ian sec­tors of the Arc­tic by using two well-known ben­thic indi­ca­tor species (blue mus­sel and Ice­landic scallop).

The project will (1) char­ac­terise the basic biol­ogy and ecol­ogy of these two key bivalve species across dif­fer­ent regions of the Arc­tic, (2) deter­mine their sen­si­tiv­i­ties to pol­lu­tant stress com­bined with envi­ron­men­tal and cli­matic stress fac­tors across the Bar­ents Sea region, (3) cre­ate a “tool­box” of joint method­olo­gies directly applic­a­ble for envi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment in the Nor­we­gian and Russ­ian Arc­tic, and finally (4) edu­cate young sci­en­tists in fun­da­men­tal and applied mod­ern ecol­ogy and eco­tox­i­col­ogy within and for the High North.

 COOPENOR includes 4 Nor­we­gian, 5 Russ­ian, 1 French and 1 USA part­ner institution.

Related links:

For more infor­ma­tion on their north­ern­most dis­tri­b­u­tion see:

Berge and Johnsen (2011) in Sval­bard­posten nr 36 p 25

Cur­rent exhi­bi­tion “Talk­ing clams” at POLARIA in Tromsø (www.framsenteret.no/snakkende-skjell-avsloerer-miljoegifter.5133296–141503.html).

Berge, J., G. Johnsen, F. Nilsen, B. Gul­lik­sen & D. Slagstad. 2005. Ocean tem­per­a­ture oscil­la­tions enforce the reap­pear­ance of blue mus­sels in Sval­bard after 1,000 years of absence. Marine Ecol­ogy Progress Series 303:167–175

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The Royal visit

We had a royal visit in our lab­o­ra­tory! On Novem­ber the 5th, a memo­r­ial ser­vice was held in Ny-Ålesund for the 21 min­ers who were killed in a severe acci­dent in the year 1962. At that time, Ny-Ålesund was a coal min­ing area, where coal was retrieved from the mines under high risks for their work­ers. The tragic acci­dent had strong polit­i­cal con­se­quences and resulted in an imme­di­ate stop of all min­ing activ­i­ties in the set­tle­ment. The com­mu­nity of Ny-Ålesund, vet­er­ans, politi­cians and King Har­ald com­mem­o­rated the vic­tims of this tragedy with a wreath cer­e­mony at the his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ment and unfor­tu­nately, we missed this cer­e­mony because of our work in the lab. But the next day, the King had the oppor­tu­nity to see the “mod­ern” life in Ny-Ålesund and he vis­ited the Marine Lab­o­ra­tory. This gave us the oppor­tu­nity to present our project and show our fishes in the hold­ing tanks.//


The every­day life in Ny-Ålesund has, how­ever, become more silent dur­ing the last months. The length of the day­light decreased quite fast (by about 20 min­utes each day) since the end of Sep­tem­ber. Some­how, it also felt like the amount of inhab­i­tants in Ny-Ålesund decreased simul­ta­ne­ously with the decreas­ing light. We are about 30 inhab­i­tants in the town now, whereas only few of them are sci­en­tists. Most of the inhab­i­tants are employed by Kings­Bay in order to keep the town run­ning dur­ing the win­ter month. We are the only ones work­ing in the Marine Lab right now and from next week it will be only me because Jor­dan will leave to Tromsø in order to help with the exper­i­ments in Kårvika. It might get a bit lonely from time to time but for­tu­nately I can enter­tain myself by talk­ing to the fishes while feed­ing them, clean­ing their tanks, prepar­ing their food and tak­ing samples.

About a week ago, we started our exper­i­ment after a period of 6 weeks for the accli­ma­tion. Now the 240 fishes are dis­turbed into 5 groups that retrieve dif­fer­ent food mix­tures and thereby dif­fer­ent treat­ments until the begin­ning of Decem­ber. The 1 week of our exper­i­ment has already past and I am really happy to real­ize that our prepa­ra­tions from the last weeks (prepar­ing food por­tions, label­ing vials etc.) yield into suc­cess. That is a good feel­ing and increases the moti­va­tion dur­ing long hours of work in the laboratory. 

I have been liv­ing in North­ern Nor­way for about 3 years and I am used to the dark months dur­ing the win­ter. It is also not new for me to work in the Arc­tic but nev­er­the­less I asked myself, when I left Tromsø in Sep­tem­ber, how it will be to live in Ny-Ålesund for 3 month in autumn/winter, …in Sval­bard the dark­ness comes faster than in Tromsø, they have harsh weather with strong winds and snow… And after being here for 2 month, I can say: it is fantastic!!!

All this beau­ti­ful sun­sets and sun­rises dur­ing the autumn, which gives you the feel­ing that the moun­tain tops are glow­ing and you just have to take so many pic­tures. And the first snow came in the begin­ning of Octo­ber, which was spe­cial for me because I have never been able to go ski on my birth­day before…and it was the first time that I got a “fish cake” to my birth­day (it was a choco­late cake with candy fishes in the top, no wor­ries). Next to the work in the lab, we have been on trips around Ny-Ålesund and enjoyed the beau­ti­ful Arc­tic nature. Equipped with rif­fle, safety tools, warm cloth and a polar dog I have been climb­ing moun­tains, hik­ing to cab­ins and walk­ing on glac­i­ers. Despite the short time with light dur­ing the days, there are plenty of pos­si­bil­i­ties for trips. You just have to be a bit faster dur­ing your hike or kayak trip. And although it was a bit colder to pad­dle a kayak in Octo­ber, we got rewarded with a won­der­ful view on the moun­tains around Kongs­fjor­den, which were illu­mi­nated by a won­der­ful mix­ture of yel­low, red, orange col­ors of the dis­ap­pear­ing sun. After cross­ing the fjord, it didn‘t take long to get the feel­ing in the body again because we arrived in the warm cabin “Gorilla”, where we spent the rest of the day with good food and nice company.

These are the news from Ny-Ålesund and we send greet­ing from the Arc­tic as well as we wish the group in Kårvika good luck with their exper­i­ments this week!

Ireen Vieweg, Ny-Ålesund 8th of Novem­ber 2012

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Polar cod arrived in Tromsø

After a 3 days´ trip across the Bar­ents Sea, our fishes arrived Tromsø and were trans­ported to the bio­log­i­cal sta­tion of the Uni­ver­sity of Tromsø in Kårvika. The facil­i­ties are quite amaz­ing with all kinds of water qual­i­ties and tem­per­a­tures avail­able and a great team of expe­ri­enced peo­ple tak­ing good care of the fishes!

Ibon (Uni­ver­sity of the Basque Coun­try) came for a short visit under the autumn colours and could enjoy the sight of the big red King crabs and Arc­tic chars reared next to our polar cod. We are now doing our best to main­tain the stock but things are not so straight for­ward work­ing with wild fishes!

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