Cut Off From the Ocean by a Volcanic Eruption, These Fish Had to Learn to Live in a Lake

Hakai Magazine

In 1732, the crew of a German whaling ship peered out at an extraordinary sight. Great plumes of ash were rising from the strange, uninhabited island of Jan Mayen—an isolated sliver of land between northern Norway and Greenland. What the whalers saw was the eruption of Beerenberg, a cataclysmic volcanic event that reshaped Jan Mayen and caused a small population of Arctic char, a salmon-like fish, to get cut off from the ocean.

The fish and their descendants have been stuck in Nordlaguna, a tiny lake on Jan Mayen, ever since. For 300 years, this population of thousands of Arctic char has had to cope with confinement—and go to extreme lengths just to survive.

When Eiliv Larsen, a geologist at the Geological Survey of Norway, travels to Jan Mayen, he usually goes in a Hercules, a large military aircraft. “It’s basically in the middle of nowhere,” he laughs. The island is a mere 55 kilometers long, and is home to just a handful of military and research personnel. Their settlements lie in the shadow of Beerenberg—the northernmost active volcano above sea level in the world.

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