Not Your Average Aquarium

Not Your Average Aquarium

One of my favorite places inside of Crary Lab is the aquarium where many of the marine biologists work.  I wandered down to the aquarium at Crary Lab today…just to see what new creatures were in the tanks.   Take a look at the interesting shapes and adaptations of these marine critters. 


Beyond what you see in the photo above are large round tanks.  I peered into the first one on my left and saw two pretty big fish swimming slowly around the tank.  These are Antarctic toothfish.  Several of the large round tanks held toothfish.


These fish are caught on or near the bottom of water that can be up to about 2000 meters deep.  They can live for 50 years, and the largest one ever caught near McMurdo was 202 pounds.


The Antarctic toothfish is a unique creature because its blood contains a natural protein “antifreeze” which allows it to live in freezing seawater.  This fish will eat anything it can sink its sharp teeth into and fit in its mouth.  It mostly preys on small-medium fishes.  Commercial fishing in the Ross Sea region began in the late 1990’s, but in recent years these fish have been more difficult to catch in the McMurdo area.

My favorite is the touch and feel tank…with its crazy looking marine life.  I stuck my hand in the tank to touch a sea star and realized just how COLD the water is for these creatures.  I’m used to tidepooling (looking in the little pools of water on a rocky shore during low tide) in New England (mostly Maine and Massachusetts) or the Pacific Northwest (Washington; Oregon; British Columbia, Canada), where the water is significantly warmer than Antarctica.



This little fish below is called a rockcod.  They are well-adapted to the extremely low and stable temperatures on the McMurdo area.  They live on the seafloor.  They will eat prey that is both sedentary (still; not moving) and moving. Sometimes they will ambush prey and other times they will kind of peck at it.  They are versatile fish indeed.


In the photo below there is a type of sea star (with curled arms) which is so unusual.  I’ve not seen anything like it before when in Crary Lab here in McMurdo.   To the left of it is an Antarctic scallop.  This scallop lives on the seafloor.  It has a swimming escape response to predators and disturbances.  Scallops are filter-feeders and eat tiny plants (diatoms) and animals (foraminifera).


The photo below shows a much larger sea star and then clockwise from the sea star you will see a bright yellow-green gastropod. Gastropods do not have a shell for protection from predators.  They can grow to be 1.4 to 7 centimeters long.  Scientists have found that they appear to be protected from predators by a chemical that deters (discourages or prevents) some animals from feeding on them.  I wonder then, what predators does this gastropod have?

Continuing clockwise you’ll see a longer, sort of oval creature.  That’s a chiton.  It has bony armor on its shell.  A chiton is a mollusk that most often lives near the edge of the ocean.  They move along very slowly on their muscular feet and cling to rocks.  They have really interesting shells made up of eight overlapping plates.

In the “six o’clock position” (bottom) there is a small scallop.  To the left of the scallop is a delicate sea spider.


The sea spider is amazing to me.  It seems so fragile, yet it lives in such cold water.  I couldn’t keep my hand in that water for longer than a few seconds, yet this creature has adapted to live here.  Some of the species that live in Antarctic waters are deep-sea dwellers, while other species prefer shallow water.  They can be quite large, with some having leg spans as wide as fifty centimeters.  That’s half of a meter stick!  Sea spiders are mostly bottom dwelling (benthic) creatures.


Another view of the touch and feel tank…


I took the photo below when I was here in 2006; it shows a beautiful sea anemone (I couldn’t get a good shot in the tank today).  This cluster of three shows how they can change in shape depending on the situation.  Often they look like flowers as the largest one in the middle looks in the photo.  The rounded one above it to the left is in the closed position for protection.  The one just under the main anemone is half way open/closed.  Sea anemones are carnivores (eat other animals) and catch their food using their tentacles, which have poisonous stingers. Notice how they attach to the rocks in the touch and feel tank.


It’s amazing to see so many different creatures in one little tank.  I often wish I had studied to be a marine biologist. I love ocean creatures and their unique adaptations.  Whether its color, shape, size, bony plates, stinging tentacles, teeth, or some other feature, these creatures are special and amazing in their ability to survive in the cold water of this region.  I know I haven’t seen all of the marine life in this area, but these critters demonstrate some pretty cool adaptations.  This truly is not your average aquarium.

If you live near an aquarium at home, I would encourage you to spend time there and learn all you can about ocean life.  I know one of my favorite places in Chicago is the Shedd Aquarium.  When I visit the Shedd I can see examples of many creatures similar to what I saw today.  I’ve always loved studying ocean life, and having a small aquarium here in McMurdo is great.

Write and tell me which creatures are your favorites.  Have a great day!

41 responses to “Not Your Average Aquarium

  1. I would guess a gastropod predator would have a poorly developed sense of taste and an excellent ability to digest critters for food.

  2. And here I am reading this after dinner out – with oysters, prawns (shrimps to some of you) and soft shell crab on the menu. I hear Toothfish is in the Yum category.

    • I don’t know, Gordon, he looked big and not so tasty to me! Maybe it’s cause the fish was staring at me….or seemed to be. I can’t wait to cook my own food again! I miss cooking! xo

  3. Betty, what a cool ( literally) aquarium! I was surprised to see all the different marine life able to survive in such cold waters.
    I think I’m going to have fish for supper tonight!

    • I love to visit any aquarium, and seeing the cool creatures here is no exception! I’m always amazed at their adaptations for living in this cold water. Enjoy that fish for dinner. I’m going to have to wait until February to get some good fish dinners!

  4. Hi Mrs. Trummel,
    It’s Willem. The aquarium looks awesome! I think that my favorite animal is the Sea Spider.
    My dad and I were wondering how you catch the Antarctic toothfish, With a pole or some other device?

    • Hi Willem, thanks for your message! I will find out how they catch them, but I would suspect with a pole….but I can’t be sure. I’ll try to find a scientist today and get an answer for you. Also, that sea spider is incredible…so delicate but yet such a tough critter. Have a great day and say hello to your family for me!

    • Does it remind you of a mini version of the Shedd Aquarium, Jake? it is so cool to see the specially adapted marine life. Happy Holidays!

  5. That is such a cool aquarium my favorite animals was the Antarctic tooth fish! It was interesting how heavy it was! What is the heaviest your team ever caught?

    • Hi Nick,
      Thanks for your note. I’m not on the team catching those toothfish, (or working with the fish) but I believe the largest one ever caught was the 202 pound fish. It is a cool aquarium, isn’t it? Keep reading my blogs to learn more!

    • Hi Joshua, thanks for your message. The sea stars are a bit rubbery and slippery in texture. I loved the one with the curled arms. Awesome adaptations…every creature in that tank had something unique about it.

    • Hi Cal, thanks for your message. I do not know how that starfish curls its arms, but I would suspect that as they grow, they curl more. It’s one of the many wonders of nature and science. I’d like to learn more about marine life though….how about you?

  6. Hi MRS.Turmmel we really like this post. We think it was cool to see the sea creatures of Antarctica! Why is it called the tooth fish does it have teeth

    • Hi Madison and Jacob from 4A! Great to get your message today! Glad you enjoyed my post. The Antarctic toothfish does indeed have sharp teeth. It will eat just about anything it can fit in its mouth. It was fun to watch it swimming slowly and gracefully around the tank. 🙂

  7. Wow! Lots of responses on this one. I am not sure I can choose which is my favorite, although the sea star with the curly arms is certainly breathtaking. I didn’t know there was such a thing as an Antarctic scallop. Will you be eating any of the local catch? Thanks for sharing and teaching!

    • Hi Ann,
      Yes, the comments are really great and I love to hear from everyone! It’s hard to keep up some days! 🙂 We won’t be eating anything local, of that I can assure you! Most of our stuff is frozen or canned, but I have to say we have had our share of fresh veggies and fruit since I arrived. I love having a salad or eating a fresh apple or orange. 🙂 Stay in touch!

    • Hi Annette! So nice to hear from you…and please tell Hannah hello for me. Thanks for your positive feedback and I hope to hear from you again soon. Happy Holidays down there in North Carolina!

  8. I subbed today and found you are way down under. What another great experience for you. I am not sure I would love it as much as you. I am more of a fair weather traveler. Very cool fish… I hope I am subbing again when you give another talk to students.

    • Hi Darlene! Great to hear from you and happy to know that you are still subbing at Husmann! I would love to sit down with you when I get home and talk about this whole adventure. Maybe we can get a group of the Husmann retirees to come over to my house and visit. I’d love it. Happy Holidays!

  9. way above average aquarium so cooooooool!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SO LUCKY SEA SPIDER LOOKS BIG AND SCARY EVERYTHING I’M SPEECHLESS

    • My favorites, Seif, are usually the sea anemones. They are so pretty, almost like a flower. I was tidepooling this summer in Washington State along the coastline in Olympic National Park. I saw huge green sea anemones…and I have great photos of them. Remind me to show you back at school. I miss teaching at Husmann, but I can still teach you from here. Keep reading and learning!

  10. heyheyhey!!! I have always wanted to study to be a marine biologist!!!! giant Squids have always fascinated me SO much!!!! my fav marine biologist that studies Squids is Dr. Tsunemi Kubodera

    • You keep working as hard as you do, Mackenzie, and you will make an excellent marine biologist. GREAT to see you today! I enjoyed the Skype call with the class. Merry Christmas!!

    • That would be fun to watch. I can stare at the small touch and feel tank here in Crary Lab all day long. I find those sea creatures fascinating. 🙂

    • Hi Bella, it was so nice to see you today! Yes, that curly-armed sea star was cool, wasn’t it? I love the sea anemones as well. The whole tank is full of interesting creatures! You have a great day, too! Stay in touch and Merry Christmas!

    • I know Keegan, that fish could feed your whole family and maybe even your fun neighborhood. Miss you! Merry Christmas! 🙂

  11. Dear Mrs.trummel,
    I enjoy going to shed Aqurium with my dad.I was also wondering in your first picture how they caught the fish did they use a fishing pole or a net.
    I hope you’re having a good time.

    • Hi Jacob….I think they use a long line, but I can’t be sure. I can try to find out. I do not think they use a net. Merry Christmas!

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