VANCOUVER, April 2, 2012 /CNW/ - Vancouver Aquarium marine biologists have achieved a significant breakthrough in the controlled breeding of Arctic cod, a keystone species in the Arctic ecosystem. For the first time in North America, Vancouver Aquarium biologists successfully hatched and reared several hundred Arctic cod to the juvenile stage over a period of six months—a carefully documented process that will have beneficial research implications for the species.
"Rearing Arctic cod is a delicate and intensive process, and the early development stages are critical to the livelihood of the cod," explains 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."
Opportunities to study Arctic cod are extremely rare due to remote natural habitats that are not easily accessible by research teams. This is compounded by the high cost of travelling to the Arctic and the challenges of collecting the species; moreover, the extremely challenging water temperature and water quality conditions under which they have to be kept make rearing very difficult. Arctic cod live in many parts of Northern Canada, including the Beaufort Sea, the Arctic Archipelago, Hudson Bay, Baffin Bay, and along the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland. They spend approximately nine months a year under the ice, making it challenging for scientists to collect vital information on their life cycle and basic requirements to live.
Arctic cod are a key link in the Arctic food chain. They are a primary food source for iconic species such as narwhals, belugas and ringed seals, which polar bears depend upon for their survival, and Inuit communities rely on as well. Arctic cod are also preyed upon by Arctic char, Greenland halibut, Atlantic salmon and Atlantic cod. The health of Arctic cod populations is a clear indication of the overall health of the Arctic ecosystem.
"The Arctic is one of the world's regions where the impact of climate change is greatest," mentions Dr John Nightingale, president and CEO of the Vancouver Aquarium. "The ability to rear Arctic cod in a controlled setting opens the door to research that has not been feasible in the past."
Despite the importance, the scientific understanding of Arctic cod is limited. Important questions about how these fish will respond to the changing Arctic climate—temperature, salinity and pH are all changing rapidly—remain unanswered.
"Scientists are seeing increasing ocean temperatures, even in the Arctic. 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," adds Dr. Nightingale.
For over 40 years, the Vancouver Aquarium has been working to identify, discuss and share the many issues—environmental, social, political, economic and cultural—the Arctic region is facing. Arctic Connections was formed to help bridge southern and northern perspectives, knowledge and ideas. In 2009, the Aquarium opened the Arctic Connections exhibit to highlight the interconnectedness of southern and northern Canadians as well as key issues facing Arctic ecosystems and the importance of Arctic research in light of the changes affecting the region. The Vancouver Aquarium is the only aquarium in North America to have Arctic cod on display as an educational opportunity for guests.
The Vancouver Aquarium is a non-profit society dedicated to the conservation of aquatic life. www.vanaqua.org.
Editors: Images and footage of Arctic cod are available for media use.
Image with caption: "Arctic Cod rearing at the Vancouver Aquarium. Day 161. (CNW Group/Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre)". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20120402_C2343_PHOTO_EN_11848.jpg
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