People have found a lot of unusual things frozen in ice this winter. A few months ago, two bull moose were found frozen in an Alaska lake, their antlers interlocked. Then, a fox frozen in a cube of ice was sawed out of Germany’s Danube River. And now, the latest in this series of bizarre frozen spectacles: fish frozen in a vertical wall of ice rising from a South Dakota Lake.
Like the other frozen wildlife, the fish are striking because of how they appear to have frozen mid-action. It looks like they’ve just leapt into the air—but they never made it back down into the lake. It’s a reminder that the freezing weather we’re so in awe of can be as brutal as it is beautiful.
So how did these fish end up frozen in a wave feet above the surface of the water? Kelly Preheim, who took the photos of the phenomenon, was so struck by the sight that she devoted herself to finding out. She spoke to biologists at the Lake Andes Wildlife Refuge where she saw the frozen phenomenon, and they explained their theory. According to them, the fish didn’t actually freeze mid-jump. Instead, when snowfall and ice clouded the surface of the lake, algae and underwater plants were unable to produce oxygen, and the fish suffocated. Then, as the ice expanded, parts of it buckled and were forced up into the air, fish and all.
Preheim told the CBC that the sight was even more spectacular and bizarre in person: “In this picture it looks like there’s about a dozen to 15. But the surface of the lake in some parts had thousands of dead fish.”
Her only regret—and ours—is that she didn’t take more photos. Nevertheless, the images she did capture give us a glimpse into the kind of surreal scene that only nature can create.