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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The Arctic…first impressions

First thought that came to my mind after land­ing on Ny-Åle­sund was “Such place could not exist”. Some­how it remind­ed me of the desert; just the col­or and the tem­per­a­ture were dif­fer­ent. The clear air and the big size of the moun­tains around make it dif­fi­cult for non-pro­fes­sion­al to judge the dis­tance between objects.  For exam­ple, it appeared for me that Con­way­breen glac­i­er is no more than 3 km away, but it turned out to be about 13 km actually.

A shoot­ing course is nec­es­sary for each new­com­er to Ny-Åle­sund. It includes polar bear behav­ior, shoot­ing with a sig­nal pis­tol, and shoot­ing with a rifle from dif­fer­ent positions.

Anoth­er unusu­al feel­ing was to locate the Polar star almost on top of my head. When the weath­er is calm, the silence is dis­turbed once in a while, by the dis­tant thun­der from the calv­ing ice.

The inhab­i­tants of Ny-Åle­sund are ready to wel­come every­one arrived in the sta­tion. It is amaz­ing how they per­form their duties, and have fun at the same time. This pic­ture (Pho­to by Goul­ven Largouёt) shows test­ing on sur­vival suits, oblig­a­tory for all boat pas­sen­gers. It was con­duct­ed in front of the Marine lab. Since vol­un­taries were need­ed, Ireen and I (the only peo­ple work­ing in the lab these days) joined for the cause of safety.

Walk­ing to the cab­ins around guar­an­tees unfor­get­table expe­ri­ence! We went to “Cor­bel” – a French sta­tion which is 5 km east. The hosts wel­comed us with a French wine and real Fon­due. The hours spent in their bar­rack will remain for­ev­er into my heart! It is incred­i­ble how such a warm atmos­phere could be gen­er­at­ed by inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty in the mid­dle of the Arctic.

All these feel­ings and impres­sions cre­at­ed a mag­nif­i­cent image of the Arc­tic envi­ron­ment in me. Image, which would nev­er fade away and would keep me will­ing to return to Ny-Ålesund.

Jor­dan Nechev, Ny-Åle­sund, 20.10.2012


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Cod Psychologist

We have become quite famous for our small fish­es up here at the Ny-Åle­sund research sta­tion, and we are asked dai­ly by sci­en­tists and none-sci­en­tists how our small fish­es are doing.

After a few drinks at the Zep­pelin Bar of Ny-Åle­sund, I was asked what kind of job I was doing. As I replied sev­er­al times “Tok­sikolog” (tox­i­col­o­gist in nor­we­gian) but was poor­ly under­stood.… I end­ed up being a “Torsk-psykolog”, lit­er­aly a Cod-psychologist.

Well, Cod psy­chol­o­gist is a quite suit­able name since we are like nan­nys, par­ents, friends and nurs­es to our lit­tle fish­es, feed­ing them and doing our best to make them hap­py. Anoth­er month of accli­ma­tion to go and our time as psy­chol­o­gist will be over and the tox­i­col­o­gists will be back!


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First field work and experiments in Svalbard

The POLARISATION team has been work­ing hard these last cou­ple of months to plan and pre­pare the first round of exper­i­men­tal work: in total 3 exper­i­ments over a peri­od of 4 months will be car­ried out both at the Kings­Bay Marin Lab in Ny-Åle­sund and at the Bio­log­i­cal sta­tion Kårvi­ka of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Trom­sø. The POLARISATION team includ­ing the new­ly employed PhD stu­dent and post doc will try to deci­pher the way oil con­t­a­m­i­nants enter polar cod through the diet and affect cru­cial lipid relat­ed process­es. In a warm­ing Arc­tic, with anthro­pogenic activ­i­ties mov­ing fur­ther north and the risk of oil spills con­stant­ly increas­ing, it is both impor­tant and exit­ing to find out how oil com­pounds change major lipid relat­ed process­es such as stor­age of ener­gy, growth, and reproduction.

Ireen Vieweg (PhD stu­dent) is prepar­ing for the first exper­i­ment in Ny-Åle­sund and will soon be assist­ed by Dr Jor­dan Nechev (Post doc) in a long and chal­leng­ing exper­i­ment to study the mol­e­c­u­lar and cel­lu­lar effects of oil con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed food. About 500 polar cod will indeed be tak­en care of over a 3 months peri­od and fed indi­vid­u­al­ly.  On RV Helmer Hanssen, Dr J. Nahrgang (PI) is present­ly sam­pling as many fish as pos­si­ble and will return to Ny-Åle­sund in less than a week. A main chal­lenge will also be to return a stock of live fish to the Bio­log­i­cal sta­tion of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Trom­sø (Kårvi­ka) to car­ry out a new set of exper­i­ments focus­ing on uptake and tis­sue dis­tri­b­u­tion of oil con­t­a­m­i­nants and the for­ma­tion of tox­ic metabolites. 


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