Hot Debate about the Cold

Sea science is all about what lies beneath the ocean, particularly in the deeper depths. Sea life has always fascinated me and I have always wanted to share my passion with others. If you want to hear about anything from plankton to whales, stick around for a while. How salt water supports life is fascinating to say the least. What happens to different species when the environment changes is also of interest to me. Everything I do and think about seems to come back to this topic. It is a lifetime enterprise to learn even the basics.

As an example of my obsession, one night I was lolling in my friend’s hot tub and we got kind of relaxed. Soon a debate began about what happens to fish when water freezes. We know what happens to humans in warm water as we were experiencing it firsthand. We also have seen what happens to them when they freeze as we have found buried bodies on Mt. Everest. Fish are no different. They must have their narrow range of temperature to survive. When we catch fish right on our deep sea fishing boat, we gut it and freeze it on the spot to ensure maximum freshness. It is hard to eat everything you catch that night. Fish go bad quickly. So we know what happens to the critters when frozen. They look the same and thaw out quite nicely.

Is there anywhere in the oceans of the world where the water is so cold that it does this job itself? If a fish wandered into the arctic zone, would it freeze and die? Could it be revived? I ask myself these questions as I sip a glass of wine with my friend. He looks at me askance. “We are in a hot tub, let’s see what has to say” he explained. Of course I know that, I replied. We got into a tiff as we hotly debated about the cold. We were literally hot in the steaming water and also irate at one another. It was ridiculous. I had to know so I vowed to surf the net in search of answers.

Here’s the deal. Scientists in the field know that fish do not in fact freeze in the Arctic Ocean because they have a natural antifreeze in their systems that keeps blood flowing at the prevailing sub-zero temperature. Wow! This temperature is usually 28.6 F all the time (close to seawater freezing point) while fish blood needs 30.4 F. Do they go off course and ice up? No, my friends. They have this special frost protection protein in their blood. Through a chemical process, ice crystallization is prevented, otherwise it would be fatal. Fish do freeze as we know from our fishing expeditions in our ice chest, but if they did in the water, it would itself be frozen solid. There is more to the story but for lack of space, I will stop here.