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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