Researchers Breed Arctic Cod, for the First Time, As Sea Ice Melts

This one’s a little beyond the Great Lakes, but interesting nonetheless …

photo arctic cod vancouver aquarium

Photos and video courtesy Vancouver Aquarium.

Biologists at the Vancouver Aquarium have announced a milestone: They’ve successfully hatched and reared Arctic cod, in a lab. It’s the first time in North America, and probably the world.

This one is important for many reasons, the Canadian researchers say:

Not only are Arctic cod a keystone species, playing a big part in the food chain, but sea ice is melting faster in the Arctic than scientists had predicted (and those predictions were pretty grim).

Arctic cod, termed as “at risk” by Environment Canada, live nine months of the year under the ice. Less ice, possibly less time to live, so it’s important to study how climate changes will impact these creatures.

But since these cod live most of their lives under the ice, they’re not the easiest species to study, from the cost of accessing their remote natural habitats to the challenging weather conditions under which they have to be studied. See some b-roll below.

How many hatchlings? The biologists say they’ve reared several hundred cod to the juvenile stage, working over six months. The process has all been documented and promises to have beneficial research implications.

“Rearing Arctic cod is a delicate and intensive process, and the early development stages are critical to the livelihood of the cod,” says Danny Kent, curator at the Vancouver Aquarium.“The Arctic cod larvae and eggs are extremely fragile and require meticulous and constant expert care to thrive. Successfully bringing the larvae to the juvenile stage could be a stepping stone to future research on this very important species.”

Arctic cod live in parts of Northern Canada, including the Beaufort Sea, the Arctic Archipelago, Hudson Bay, Baffin Bay, and along the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland. They’re called a key species because they’re a primary food source for narwhals, belugas and ringed seals — which polar bears, and Inuit communities, depend upon for sustenance.

Arctic cod are kind of a “canary in the cold mine” for the Arctic ecosystem, you might say.

“Scientists are seeing increasing ocean temperatures, even in the Arctic,” according to John Nightingale, president and CEO of the Vancouver Aquarium.

“What we don’t know today is how this change will impact key species like the Arctic cod. Successfully rearing Arctic cod at the Aquarium means scientists can study aspects of their lives that previously were difficult, if not, impossible to study.”

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