New Fish Arrives in Arctic Ocean

One marine animal has quickly taken advantage of the recent rise in northern ocean temperatures.

Until a few years ago, Atlantic snake pipefish was a fairly scarce resident of open waters in the eastern Atlantic, ranging from the Azores Islands off the coast of Portugal to Iceland and Norway in the north.

Suddenly in 2002 greater numbers of young pipefish began showing up in routine ocean plankton surveys west of France and the British Isles. More larvae and juveniles were counted in the first half of 2005 than in the 15 years from 1958 to 1972.

Then in August of 2006, biologists conducting an inventory of seabed organisms discovered two adult pipefish for the first time in the Arctic Ocean. A 35 cm long pipefish was caught and another was observed swimming off the west coast of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago that lies east of Greenland. These fish were farther north by 15 degrees latitude, or about 1650 km, than pipefish had ever been noted before.

Snake pipefish, a relative of seahorses, appear to be responding to the heating of marine waters. Average sea surface temperatures between 2002 and 2005 were 0.5 °C higher than in the 1960s.

Rising temperatures could be benefiting the fish by lengthening their breeding season. The additional warmth might also be quickening development of eggs and larvae, thereby allowing more frequent breeding and reducing the duration of a life stage when pipefish are most vulnerable to predators.

Scientists expect the expansion of snake pipefish in northern waters to have a ripple effect on the marine ecology, including rearranging linkages in the food web.


Dirk Fleischer, M. Schaber and D. Piepenburg. 2007. Atlantic snake pipefish ( Entelurus aequoreus ) extends its northward distribution range to Svalbard (Arctic Ocean). Polar Biology. 30(10): 1359-1362.

Richard R. Kirby, David G. Johns and John A. Lindley. 2006. Fathers in hot water: rising sea temperatures and a Northeastern Atlantic pipefish baby boom. Biology Letters. Volume 2(4): 597-600.

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