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9 May, 2000

Why Antarctica? Question 80: How have fishes adapted to the Southern Ocean? Antarctica has called to explorers and adventurers for centuries. Though today it is somewhat better known, more accessible and less dangerous than in the past, it still has a mystique that exerts a pull on those who come here. We have taken different paths to get here, but there are some personal similarities. Most successful polarites are good at what they do, have enthusiastic attitudes and attack life with an adventurous spirit no matter what their age, gender or background. "In for a penny, in for a pound" could be the group motto. What drew us to Antarctica is usually a combination of the following factors. For some, it is the fascinating landscape and harsh natural beauty of the rocks, snow, glaciers, and ocean. In addition to the amazing beauty, there is the immense scale of the place and the fact that you are one of a small number of people lucky enough to see it. The wildlife is another draw; and for a naturalist, one is visiting an ecosystem unlike any other. Antarctica is one of those "ultimate" places on earth, like the top of the highest mountain, end of the longest river, etc. Some come just for that. Then there are the tremendous science opportunities. The fact that no one else is doing what we do here makes the location irresistible. Species richness is more limited, unlike a tropical system with its overwhelming and hard-to-untangle relationships, so the impact of an experiment may be more definable. The lifestyle of the U.S. (and other) Antarctic programs draws many returning OAEs (Old Antarctic Explorers). They love the travel, work schedule and the variety of people living here. Not only do they get to travel to Antarctica, but working on the support crew allows ample opportunities to travel to other places during the vacation time built into the work schedule. Many have a year on- year off schedule. When they return to South America or New Zealand from their time on the ice, they may choos continents before going back to the States for some unstructured rest and home time. While on the ice, the wages are good (saving is virtually enforced with little to spend money on), and the work challenging and purposeful. Helping the science teams provides inspiration and a sense of pride in parcticipating in the USAP; being part of a huge scientific effort and logistical organization is impressive! Many enjoy the academic environment and the personal sense of satisfaction of seeing exactly what you are helping to support. It is an involved community, not an assembly line. There is also a great deal of respect for the trades and acceptance of their important place in the program. For female tradesmen it is a very supportive place to work; there isn't a job women aren't doing in the USAP. Though the ice is a wonderful and unique workplace, it is not without hardships. You have to leave family and friends from home for anywhere from one to nine or more months. If you leave behind a lab, job or classroom, you can't expect it to operate normally in your absence. You may not have the chance to practice certain technical or mental skills on the ice and get rusty. There is extreme physical isolation and a very distinct social system that you become part of. Reconnection with world can be hard after lots of time on the ice; your ice community dissolves as everyone ships off to their homes, and your home community may have been weakened by your absence. And if you enjoy fishing, the Antarctic fish don't fight! Early this morning we rounded the tip of South America, Tierra del Fuego. Good timing! Now we are protected by land from the storm coming from the west that had just started to seriously rock the ship. Answer 79: These and other northern fishes spawn in shallow water where the fertilized eggs then develop. Such shallow water habitat is not available in the Southern Ocean with its narrow and deep continental shelf.


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