Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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Contact: David Malmquist
Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Santa considers switch from reindeer team to fish school

Travel by boat a troubling concession to shrinking Arctic sea ice

(December 18, 2012) Sounds of holiday cheer were replaced by concerned gasps last week when Santa Claus arrived for his annual visit to the campus of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science by boat rather than sleigh.

The children and parents who had gathered on VIMS' Chesapeake Bay campus to witness Santa's arrival were astounded when Father Christmas arrived in a 21-foot fiberglass skiff, rather than his traditional rosewood sleigh.

The boat, trailered from the nearby York River by a VIMS pick-up truck, held both Santa and two of his elves, who despite their large ears bore an uncanny likeness to Carissa Gervasi and Theresa Davenport, graduate students in the College of William and Mary's School of Marine Science at VIMS.

When asked why he ditched his sleigh for a boat, Santa says the answer lies in this summer's record low sea-ice cover at the North Pole. "My reindeer—Prancer in particular—require year-round practice to maintain their flying ability," says Santa. "The increasing loss of Arctic sea-ice during the summer continues to reduce the length of the runway that's available for our July and August training flights, so I've begun to keep the reindeer at home during my pre-holiday visits and to use my school of fish instead."

VIMS professor Deborah Bronk, who studies the effects of climate change on nitrogen cycling in Arctic waters, confirms Santa's observations. "Data from NASA show that Arctic sea ice melted to its lowest extent in the satellite record this year," she says. "That breaks the previous record low seen in 2007." Arctic sea ice fell to 1.58 million square miles on August 26th—27,000 square miles below the previous low of 1.61 million square miles on September 18, 2007.

Santa hopes a recent Arctic cold spell will allow him to launch his reindeer team and sleigh on Christmas Eve, but admits that if his weather elves forecast above-freezing temperatures, he may have to distribute his gifts by boat—bad news for any elves that get seasick.

Santa's fish school—Flounder and Croaker; and Striper and Catfish; Herring, Clupeid, and Snapper, and Flatfish—are understandably cheering for warm temperatures as Yuletide approaches, as they would love to get the chance to show off their swimming prowess to Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The ninth fish in Santa's school—Erwin the glow-nosed angler—says "I'm hoping for open seas, high waves, and turbid waters so that I can use my bioluminescent lure to guide Santa's boat to waiting children everywhere."

Santa's visit to the VIMS campus is a long-standing tradition at the Institute, dating back nearly 30 years. The event is paid for by the Coke Fund, which consists of a percentage of the proceeds from campus vending machines.


Lyrics to the well-loved Holiday classic "Erwin the Glow-Nosed Angler" are available at http://bit.ly/vimserwin

A photo album from Santa's recent visit to VIMS can be viewed on the VIMS Facebook page at www.facebook.com/fbvims.