Arctic conditions can be brutal for all of us. Just take the recent effects of the Polar vortex that ravished the better part the continental United States. On land, we are able to stay active or simply get out of the brutal conditions, this isn't the case for many of the marine fish living the majority of their lives in sub-freezing conditions. So how do they keep their fragile fish bodies from freezing like a deer in headlights?
Well, it depends on how you define "freezing" and what you think is ultimately sending a fish to that "big ocean in the sky" (at these low temperatures). We all know that pure water freezes at 32°F (0°C). One other thing to keep in mind is atmospheric pressure, and pure water only freezes at 32°F (0°C) at 1atm. With increased pressure (2, 3, 4+ atm) the freezing point of pure water begins to decrease ever so slightly.
OK, so that takes care of the "freezing" part.
So, what actually turns a fish into natures Weekend at Burnie's? It's two main things.
Environmental cues tell the cold water fish that winter is coming.
The Length of Day
You may think the change in water temperature or composition triggers their winter mode to kick in but, as far as we know, that would be wrong.
The point at which they are caught in the right conditions for water in their bodies to crystallize into ice. When Ice expands, it tears open cell membranes, making it game over.
The Slow Down
The point at which low temperatures reduce the flexibility and binding abilities of enzymes and cell walls no longer transfer metabolic processes.
You know how butter spreads easily when at room temperature, then gets hard in the refrigerator.
Now imagine the same butter at freezing temperatures. Cell membranes are essentially made out of the same compounds as butter, halting any flow of molecules through these buttery cell membranes. This lack of flow ultimately starves the fish of oxygen at the cellular level.
What a tragic delicious way to go.
Luckily!, Arctic and Antarctic fish species have a few tricks up their sleeves (umm... or gills I guess).
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