She was in a hurry. Time seemed to have slipped un-noted through her fins. It wasn’t the first time. But why was she here, then, in the icy Kongsfjord at 79° N, on a dark January day, nearly 12 degrees latitude from the traditional spawning area off the North Norwegian Islands Lofoten and Vesterålen? A 1300 km swim – against the ocean currents?
Was it the seemingly immenseness of the task that had made her postpone the departure? Or had the surprisingly plentiful menu of shrimp, herring, capelin and haddock made he believe that she was in one of the Fjords along Finnmark, and not in Kongsfjord on the north-western corner of Spitsbergen? She felt the growing bag of roe pressing against her stomach inside her. Her appetite was not as intense now as it had been during the autumn months – but something told her that she needed larger energy stores to make it all the way. Always choices to make.
Depart now and contribute to the next generation – or ignore the urge this time and stay behind and enjoy the bounty of food being offered? Staying with the noisy black and white birds, diving and flashing their dangerous beaks in search of food in the dimly lit water masses? – they had chosen to stay the winter here in the darkness, only illuminated by luminescent krill searching for food, the moonlight and the illusive northern light – could she do the same?
A third option was to swim towards the more northerly spawning areas in Breivikbotn off Sørøya in Finnmark. “Little Lofoten” was the common name of this site – she had never been there. But this trip would be a bit shorter, and departure could be further postponed. But here in Kongsfjord she wasn’t on her own. Several handsome young males were in the same situation as her. Increasing pressure from hormones and growing gonads signalized next generation eagerly waiting to be conceived. Did they really need to go the long way to the coast of the mainland to breed? Wasn’t Kongsfjord an equally appropriate alternative?– an availability of food of all sizes and qualities, but probably water temperatures a bit on the cool side ?– and ofcourse the presence of the numerous, somewhat odd cousins, the polar cod, which clearly had chosen to breed on site in the darkness.
She was 90 cm long, in good shape, ready and capable of the long swim. She had made the journey to Lofoten twice before, but never from a starting point this far north. She liked the trips to Lofoten, the feeling of being part of something beyond herself, the making of life. And her own offspring had also turned up here in Kongsfjord. The rich, pelagic concentrations of krill were ideal food for young cod, feasting fin by fin with haddock, capelin, redfish and herring, the former being the results of her and thousands of other mature cod spawning off Lofoten in spring 2012 and 2013.
No – it had to be yet another voyage. But this time, the reluctance to depart proved wrong. The last effort on filling her stomach in the dense, pelagic food abundance led to an unexpected and fatal encounter with a researcher’s pelagic trawl. Her last contribution then was to stimulate curiosity among scientists and students working to describe and understand the polar night marine ecology of the Arctic.
This little story is fiction and fantasy, but is describes how events could have evolved for the largest fish, a 90 cm female Atlantic cod, taken in one of 9 trawl hauls in Kongsfjorden, Svalbard during the ARCTOS research program Marine Night, January 2014.