Skip to main content Accessibility help

Changed prevalence, not absence, explains toothfish status in McMurdo Sound

  • David G. Ainley (a1), Grant Ballard (a2), Joseph T. Eastman (a3), Clive W. Evans (a4), Nadav Nur (a2) and Claire L. Parkinson (a5)...


We comment on the conjecture by Parker et al. (2016) that Antarctic toothfish recently returned to McMurdo Sound, arguing that this species never departed. Instead, as deduced from a 40-year fishing effort, toothfish water column prevalence became markedly reduced where bottom depths are <500 m, with research continuing to show their presence on the bottom or above the bottom where depths are deeper. We also counter arguments that toothfish departed, and remained absent, during and following a five-year presence of mega-icebergs residing near the opposite coast of Ross Island, the icebergs inhibiting or fomenting conditions that discouraged toothfish presence in the Sound. Available analyses reveal that toothfish movement into the Sound was probably not significantly affected, and additionally that neither changes in hydrography nor in primary productivity in the Sound would have been sufficient to impact toothfish presence through food web alteration. We hypothesize that the local effect of predation by seals and whales and the regional effect of a fishery targeting the largest toothfish (those neutrally buoyant and thus capable of occupying upper levels of the water column) has resulted in the remaining toothfish now being found predominantly closer to the bottom at greater depths.


Corresponding author


Hide All
Ainley, D.G. & Siniff, D.B. 2009. The importance of Antarctic toothfish as prey of Weddell Seals in the Ross Sea: a review. Antarctic Science, 21, 317327.
Ainley, D.G., LaRue, M.A., Stirling, I., Stammerjohn, S. & Siniff, D.B. 2015a. An apparent population decrease, or change in distribution, of Weddell seals along the Victoria Land coast. Marine Mammal Science, 31, 13381361.
Ainley, D.G., Ballard, G., Barton, K.J., Karl, B.J., Rau, G.H., Ribic, C.A. & Wilson, P.R. 2003. Spatial and temporal variation of diet composition within a presumed metapopulation of Adélie penguins. Condor, 105, 95106.
Ainley, D.G., Ballard, G., Jones, R.M., Jongsomjit, D., Pierce, S.D., Smith, W.O. Jr, & Veloz, S. 2015b. Trophic cascades in the western Ross Sea, Antarctica: revisited. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 534, 116.
Ainley, D.G., Nur, N., Eastman, J.T., Ballard, G., Parkinson, C.L., Evans, C.W. & DeVries, A.L. 2012. Decadal trends in abundance, size and condition of Antarctic toothfish in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, 1972–2011. Document SC-CAMLR-WG-FSA-12/P04. Hobart, TAS: CCAMLR.
Ainley, D.G., Nur, N., Eastman, J.T., Ballard, G., Parkinson, C.L., Evans, C.W. & DeVries, A.L. 2013. Decadal trends in abundance, size and condition of Antarctic toothfish in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, 1972–2011. Fish and Fisheries, 14, 343363.
Barry, J.P. & Dayton, P.K. 1988. Current patterns in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica and their relationship to local biotic communities. Polar Biology, 8, 367376.
Blackwell, B.G., Brown, M.L. & Willis, D.W. 2000. Relative weight (Wr) status and current use in fisheries assessment and management. Reviews in Fisheries Science, 8, l44.
Buckley, B.A. 2013. Rapid change in shallow water fish species composition in an historically stable Antarctic environment. Antarctic Science, 25, 676680.
Calhaem, I. & Cristofell, D.A. 1969. Some observations of the feeding habits of a Weddell seal, and measurements of its prey, Dissostichus mawsoni, at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 3, 181190.
Castellini, M.A., Davis, R.W. & Kooyman, G.L. 1992. Annual cycles of diving behavior and ecology of the Weddell seal. Bulletin of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 28, 154.
Causse, R., Ozouf-Costaz, C., Koubbi, P., Lamy, D., Eléaume, M., Dettaï, A., Duhamel, G., Busson, F., Pruvost, P., Post, A., Beaman, R.J. & Riddle, M.J. 2011. Demersal ichthyofaunal shelf communities from the Dumont d’Urville Sea (East Antarctica). Polar Science, 5, 272285.
Cziko, P.A., DeVries, A.L., Evans, C.W. & Cheng, C.H.C. 2014. Antifreeze protein-induced superheating of ice inside Antarctic notothenioid fishes inhibits melting during summer warming. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111, 14 58314 588.
Dugger, K.M., Ballard, G., Ainley, D.G., Lyver, P.O. & Schine, C. 2014. Adélie penguins coping with environmental change: results from a natural experiment at the edge of their breeding range. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 2, 10.3389/fevo.2014.00068.
Eastman, J.T. 1985a. The evolution of neutrally buoyant notothenioid fishes: their specializations and potential interactions in the Antarctic marine food web. In Seigfried, W.R., Condy, P.R. & Laws, R.M., eds. Antarctic nutrient cycles and food webs. Berlin: Springer, 430436.
Eastman, J.T. 1985b. Pleuragramma antarcticum (Pisces, Nototheniidae) as food for other fishes in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Polar Biology, 4, 155160.
Eastman, J.T. & Barry, J.P. 2002. Underwater video observation of the Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni (Perciformes: Nototheniidae) in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Polar Biology, 25, 391395.
Eastman, J.T. & DeVries, A.L. 2000. Aspects of body size and gonadal histology in the Antarctic toothfish, Dissostichus mawsoni, from McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Polar Biology, 23, 189195.
Eastman, J.T., Amsler, M.O., Aronson, R.B., Thatje, S., McClintock, J.B., Vos, S.C., Kaeli, J.W., Singh, H. & La Mesa, M. 2013. Photographic survey of benthos provides insights into the Antarctic fish fauna from the Marguerite Bay slope and the Amundsen Sea. Antarctic Science, 25, 3143.
Everson, I. 1970. The population dynamics and energy budget of Notothenia neglecta Nybelin at Signy Island, South Orkney Islands. British Antarctic Survey Bulletin, No. 23, 2550.
Fenaughty, J.M. 2006. Geographical differences in the condition, reproductive development, sex ratio and length distribution of Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni) from the Ross Sea, Antarctica (CCAMLR subarea 88.1). CCAMLR Science, 13, 2745.
Fenaughty, J.M., Eastman, J.T. & Sidell, B.D. 2008. Biological implications of low condition factor ‘axe handle’ specimens of the Antarctic toothfish, Dissostichus mawsoni, from the Ross Sea. Antarctic Science, 20, 537551.
Fuiman, L.A., Davis, R.W. & Williams, T.M. 2002. Behaviour of midwater fishes under the Antarctic ice: observations by a predator. Marine Biology, 140, 815822.
Hanchet, S.M., Rickard, G.J., Fenaughty, J.M., Dunn, A. & Williams, M.J.H. 2008. A hypothetical life cycle for Antarctic toothfish Dissostichus mawsoni in Antarctic waters of CCAMLR Statistical Area 88. CCAMLR Science, 15, 3553.
Hanchet, S.M., Stewart, A.L., McMillan, P.J., Clark, M.R., O’Driscoll, R.L. & Stevenson, M.L. 2013. Diversity, relative abundance, new locality records, and updated fish fauna of the Ross Sea region. Antarctic Science, 25, 619636.
Kim, S.Z., Ainley, D.G., Pennycook, J. & Eastman, J.T. 2011. Antarctic toothfish heads found along tide cracks of the McMurdo Ice Shelf. Antarctic Science, 23, 469470.
Kim, S.L., Conlan, K., Malone, D.P. & Lewis, C.V. 2005. Possible food caching and defence in the Weddell seal: observations from McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Antarctic Science, 17, 7172.
La Mesa, M., Eastman, J.T. & Vacchi, J.M. 2004. The role of notothenioid fish in the food web of the Ross Sea shelf waters: a review. Polar Biology, 27, 321338.
Lenky, C., Eisert, R., Oftedal, O.T. & Metcalf, V. 2012. Proximate composition and energy density of nototheniid and myctophid fish in McMurdo Sound and the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Polar Biology, 35, 717724.
Lyver, P.O., Barron, M., Barton, K.J., Ainley, D.G., Pollard, A., Gordon, S., McNeill, S., Ballard, G. & Wilson, P.R. 2014. Trends in the breeding population of Adélie penguins in the Ross Sea, 1981–2012: a coincidence of climate and resource extraction effects. PLoS ONE, 9, 10.1371/journal.pone.0091188.
MacAyeal, D.R., Okal, M.H., Thom, J.E., Brunt, K.M., Kim, Y.J. & Bliss, A.K. 2008. Tabular iceberg collisions within the coastal regime. Journal of Glaciology, 54, 371386.
Nash, R.D.M., Valencia, A.H. & Geffen, A.J. 2006. The origin of Fulton’s Condition Factor – setting the record straight. Fisheries, 31, 236238.
Near, T.J., Russo, S.E., Jones, C.D. & DeVries, A.L. 2003. Ontogenetic shift in buoyancy and habitat in the Antarctic toothfish, Dissostichus mawsoni (Perciformes: Nototheniidae). Polar Biology, 26, 124128.
O’Driscoll, R.L., Macaulay, G.J., Gauthier, S., Pinkerton, M. & Hanchet, S. 2011. Distribution, abundance and acoustic properties of Antarctic silverfish (Pleuragramma antarcticum) in the Ross Sea. Deep-Sea Research II - Topical Studies in Oceanography, 58, 181195.
Parker, S.J., Mormede, S., DeVries, A.L., Hanchet, S.M. & Eisert, R. 2016. Have Antarctic toothfish returned to McMurdo Sound? Antarctic Science, 28, 2934.
Ponganis, P.J. & Stockard, T.K. 2007. The Antarctic toothfish: how common a prey for Weddell seals? Antarctic Science, 19, 441442.
Reisinger, R.R., Keith, M., Andrews, R.D. & de Bruyn, P.J.N. 2015. Movement and diving of killer whales (Orcinus orca) at a Southern Ocean archipelago. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 473, 90102.
Robinson, N.J. & Williams, M.J.M. 2012. Iceberg-induced changes to polynya operation and regional oceanography in the southern Ross Sea, Antarctica, from in situ observations. Antarctic Science, 24, 514526.
Robison, B.H. 2003. What drives the diel vertical migrations of Antarctic midwater fish? Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 83, 639642.
Saenz, B.T. & Arrigo, K.R. 2014. Annual primary production in Antarctic sea ice during 2005–2006 from a sea ice state estimate. Journal of Geophysical Research - Oceans, 119, 36453678.
SC-CAMLR. 2012. Report of the 31st Meeting of the Scientific Committee (SC-CAMLR XXXI), Annex 7. Hobart, TAS: CCAMLR.
SC-CAMLR. 2013. Report of the 32nd Meeting of the Scientific Committee (SC-CAMLR-XXXII), Annex 6. Hobart, TAS: CCAMLR.
SC-CAMLR. 2014. Fishery report 2014: exploratory fishery for Dissostichus spp. in Subareas 88.1 and 88.2. Hobart, TAS: CCAMLR.
Smith, W.O., Ainley, D.G., Arrigo, K.R. & Dinniman, M.S. 2014. The oceanography and ecology of the Ross Sea. Annual Review of Marine Science, 6, 469487.
Testa, J.W., Sinniff, D.B., Ross, M.J. & Winter, J.D. 1985. Weddell seal–Antarctic cod interactions in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. In Seigfried, W.R., Condy, P.R. & Laws, R.M., eds. Antarctic nutrient cycles and food webs. Heidelberg: Springer, 561565.



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed