Billions of Juvenile Fish Use the Arctic Sea Ice as a Nursery

First Posted: Oct 14, 2015 11:25 AM EDT

It turns out that the Arctic sea ice has more life than you might think. Scientists have found that beneath this ice you can find billions of juvenile polar cod, which are a major source of food for seals, whales and seabirds.

Beluga whales, narwhals, ringed seals and Arctic seabirds all prefer polar cod as their food of choice. This makes the fish on of the Arctic Ocean's most ecologically important animals. Despite its importance, though, there are gaps in our understanding of it. For example, scientists have known for years that polar cod live under the sea ice. However, researchers have been unsure exactly how many live there.

"For the first time, we've been able to use a special net directly below the sea ice to catch a large number of polar cod, and therefore to estimate their prevalence over a large area," said Carmen David, first author of the new article, in a news release. "If you extrapolate these findings, there could be more than nine billion polar cod living under the ice in the Eastern Arctic. What's more, we have also collected fundamental biological and physical data."

While this information is interesting, it's also somewhat worrying to researchers. As the Arctic ice melts, there may be fewer habitat for the juvenile polar cold. This, in turn, could affect animals further up the food chain who prefer the cod as their major food source.

The findings reveal a bit more about the polar cod population and shows that this ice acts as a type of nursery for these fish. This means that it's important that this ice remains intact for the future of these polar cod.

The findings are published in the journal Polar Biology.

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