Friday, August 19, 2011

Montreal Expedition: Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?

Bonjour from Montréal! We are from the research department at the New England Aquarium, writing to you from the Biodôme in Montréal, Quebec, where we are conducting an experiment on the stress physiology of two species of wolffish. One of us (Emily) is a masters students with the Northeastern University Three Seas Program, conducting this work as part of her thesis. The rest of us (Alena and Hope) are New England Aquarium interns. The three of us are working under the supervision of Dr. John Mandelman and Dr. Randi Rotjan (NEAq), and Dr. Nathalie Le François of the Biodôme. Our study is investigating the possible effects of shelter on mediating the wolffish's stress response, which could have implications in aquaculture and conservation endeavors.

What's a wolffish, you ask? Good question!

Smile for the camera! An Atlantic wolffish, Anarhichas lupus

The two species in our study are the Atlantic wolffish, Anarhichas lupus, and the spotted wolffish, Anarhichas minor. Both species are found in deep waters of the North Atlantic, where they feed on hard-shelled crustaceans, molluscs, and urchins and thus are an important part of benthic food webs. Wolffish exhibit several unique and interesting characteristics, including annual tooth replacement, prolonged fasting periods and very low resting metabolic rates, internal fertilization, egg brooding behavior and an irresistible smile.

They are also economically relevant, yielding commercially sought-after meat and caviar. However, both species are considered threatened as they are heavily impacted by human activities such as trawl fishing. All these factors have contributed to a significant interest in researching the biology and ecology of these fish.

Wolffish are fearsome looking fish with gnarly teeth and a lot of personality! Our work involves drawing the fishes' blood while trying to keep all our fingers. By taking blood samples from the fish we can measure their levels of cortisol, a stress hormone found in most vertebrates (including humans!).

Drawing a blood sample from a sedated Atlantic wolffish

We have been working up at the Biodôme for about a month now and will be wrapping up experimentation in a week. The next step for our project is to process the blood samples we have collected and run statistical analyses. This work can be conducted at NEAq labs down in Boston, so we'll be saying au revoir to Montréal and our loups de mer (that's wolffish in French!). But we'll be back with you again this week for a tour of the Biodôme! Adieu for now-

Alena (L) and Emily (R) model their model organisms, the spotted wolffish
(A. minor) and the Atlantic wolffish (A. lupus)

- Emily, Alena, Hope

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