Eaten by the Terror’s cat

The ice fish rediscovered by Doll
Mangé par le chat de l'équipage de la Terror

The cod icefish re-discovered and published in 1904 by Louis Dollo. The original caption says “Mangé par le chat de l'équipage de la Terror” or “Eaten by the Terror’s cat"!

The famous polar ships HMS Erebus and HMS terror had been in the ice long before Franklin took them to their doom in the Northwest Passage. James Clark Ross took them to the Antarctic from 1839-43 on a hugely successful voyage to find the South Magnetic Pole. Ross filled in many blanks on the map and discovered and named many places including Ross Island and Mount Erebus - one of the most spectacular volcanoes yet discovered.

Ross also took civilian experts to describe and write about their discoveries. These civilians produced vast scientific volumes to record their results.

Unfortunately the official reports show that the pathway to knowledge is sometimes more complicated than originally envisaged.


“When the ships were in the high latitude of 77°10’S., and long. 178½°, a fish was thrown up by the spray in a gale of wind, against the bows of the Terror, and frozen there. It was carefully removed … and a rough sketch was made of it by the surgeon, John Robertson, Esq., but before it could be put into spirits, a cat carried it away from his cabin, and ate it. The sketch is not sufficiently detailed [so] … we have introduced a copy of the design merely to preserve a memorial of what appears to be a novel form.”

Richardson, 1844, The zoology of the voyage of the H.M.S. Erebus & Terror


This was a tragedy as it was clearly a species new to science and it had some very unusual features including long fins and very pale flesh. Sixty years were to pass before a scientist on the expedition led by Adrien de Gerlache on the Belgica re-discovered the named the fish Robertson had drawn. Louis Dollo wrote to Joseph Dalton Hooker and received this reply

Letter from Joseph Dalton Hooker

The fish was a so-called ice-fish – a member of a remarkable family able to live in the very cold Antarctic waters. These fish have few red blood cells (which carry the oxygen) but have anti-freeze proteins which prevents them freezing. You can see the screengrab from Dollo's original article in the World Register of Marine Species.


PDFs of the Original books with this information in are available. John Richardson wrote about the loss of the original fish specimen in:

Sir John Richardson, 1844, The zoology of the voyage of the H.M.S. Erebus & Terror, under the command of Captain Sir James Clark Ross, during the years 1839 to 1843. By authority of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, K. W. Janson, London, 450pp.

And Louis Dollo describes the specimen in:

Résultats Du Voyage Du S. Y. Belgica En 1897-1898-1899 Sous Le Commandement De A. De Gerlache De Gomery Rapports Scientifiques Publiés Aux Frais Du Gouvernement Belge, Sous La Direction De La Commission De La Belgica. Zoologie. Poissons. Par Louis Dollo (1904)