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Why Don’t Fish Freeze in Antarctica?

Journey to Antarctica in a new digital series from NOVA and PBS Digital Studios, and discover what it takes to do science in Earth’s remotest natural laboratory.

Premiered: Runtime: 12:01Topic: Planet EarthPlanet EarthNova
Premiered on PBS

Bizarre creatures—ancient sponges, gigantic jellyfish, sea spiders, ribbon worms, and notothenioid fishes that manage not to freeze—make their home here. “Every time I come down here, every year, I always find something I haven’t seen before,” diver Steve Rupp says.

To discover Antarctica’s dazzling hidden underbelly, host Arlo Pérez meets with Steve and his fellow Antarctic diver Rob Robbins, while host Caitlin Saks explores the McMurdo Aquarium with evolutionary physiologist Chi-Hing Christina Cheng. Arlo and Caitlin learn that the Antarctic marine realm is not only spectacular to see, but fascinating for scientists to study. The water is so cold that fish inhabiting it should freeze like an icicle, a phenomenon that evolutionary biologist Paul Cziko uses supercooled water, snow, and fish guts to demonstrate.

So how do Antarctica’s fish, which penguins and seals rely on for food, survive in waters below their freezing point? To find out, Caitlin and Arlo go ice fishing with a local legend, biologist Art DeVries, who has been studying fish physiology in Antarctica since 1961. The secret is an evolutionary marvel that has major implications...for ICE CREAM.

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Major funding for NOVA is provided by the David H. Koch Fund for Science, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and PBS viewers. Additional funding is provided by the NOVA Science Trust.

Major funding for this project is provided by the National Science Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Heising-Simons Foundation, The Kendeda Fund, the George D. Smith Fund, and the Richard Saltonstall Charitable Foundation.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1713552. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Footage of seals was obtained under the authority of NMFS MMPA permit nos.1032-1917, 17236, & 21158