For the first time in North America, Vancouver Aquarium’s team of biologists successfully hatched and reared several hundred Arctic cod to the juvenile stage. Our researchers believe that this significant breakthrough in the controlled breeding of Arctic cod will have beneficial research implications for the species.
Why is this research so important? 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 them 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.
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.
Opportunities to study Arctic cod are extremely rare due to remote natural habitats in the Arctic that are not easily accessible by research teams. This challenge is compounded by the high cost of travelling to the Arctic and the difficulty of collecting the species. Also, the extremely challenging water temperature and water quality conditions under which they have to be kept make rearing very difficult. The ability to rear Arctic cod in a controlled setting opens the door to research that has not been feasible in the past.
Rearing Arctic cod is a delicate and intensive process, and the early development stages are critical to the livelihood of the cod. 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 of this very important species.
Despite the importance of Arctic cod, the scientific understanding of the species 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. The Arctic is a region of the world where the impact of climate change is greatest.
For more than 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 an initiative that was formed to help bridge southern and northern perspectives, knowledge and ideas. In 2009, the Aquarium opened its 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.