Santa Claus pays annual visit to VIMS

  • Riding in Style   Santa Claus traded in the sleigh for a boat when arriving to the VIMS campus. He was promptly greeted by an exhuberant crowd of children eager to sit on his lap and express their hopes for Christmas morning.   Photo by Erin Kelly
  • Children of all ages   A long-standing VIMS tradition, Santa comes every year to hear what children of all ages want to find under their tree Christmas morning. Pictured here, Lucas Longest is making sure to get his request in before his first Christmas morning.   Photo by Erin Kelly
  • Family Fun   Avery and Sarah Gibbs enjoyed spending some time with Jolly Old Saint Nicholas before joining the other children for cookies and punch at the VIMS Kids' Christmas Party.   Photo by Erin Kelly
  • Christmas Wishes   Aidan Dreyer was happy to see his name with the other children on the nice list with a special gift that he can eagerly await to unwrap on December 25th.   Photo by Erin Kelly
  • Sea Ice   Melting sea-ice cut into Santa's traditional reindeer runways during record low sea-ice extent in August 2012. Yellow line shows average August sea-ice extent between 1979-2010.   Image courtesy of NASA.
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Arrival by boat a troubling concession to shrinking Arctic sea ice

The sounds of holiday joy and cheer echoed across the campus of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science last week as Santa Claus made his annual trip to Gloucester Point in true VIMS style—by boat.

Children and parents gathered outside of Watermen’s Hall to witness the arrival of Father Christmas and two of his elves, who bore an uncanny likeness to VIMS graduate students Carissa Gervasi and Theresa Davenport.

Santa brought his official list to VIMS. Photo by Erin Kelly.

As Santa’s boat—trailered from the York River by a VIMS pick-up truck—rounded the corner towards Watermen’s Hall, the sounds of little voices shouting “Santa!” resonated as they all rushed to greet him with a hug.

As the excitement settled, the party moved indoors where the children lined up with their parents for a turn to sit on Santa’s lap. After making a list, and checking it twice, Santa came prepared with his official scroll so that the children could see their name, along with a gift they had asked for.

“It’s important for me to bring my list,” says Santa. “Even though some of the children are too young to read, they can recognize their name and have the relief of knowing they have a gift coming their way on Christmas morning.”

Sleighs, boats, and sea ice

While some may be wondering why Santa ditched his sleigh for a boat, he says the answer lies in this summer’s record low sea-ice coverage at the North Pole. “My reindeer—Prancer in particular—require year-round practice to maintain their flying ability,” says Santa. “The increasing loss of summer sea ice 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.”

Melting sea-ice cut into Santa's traditional reindeer runways during record low sea-ice extent in August 2012. Yellow line shows average August sea-ice extent between 1979-2010.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, "breaking the previous record low seen in 2007." 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 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 be have to distribute his gifts by boat—bad news for any elves that get seasick.

Erwin the glow-nosed angler

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 he is “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.”

Avery Gibbs with Santa during his visit.

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.

A photo album from Santa’s recent visit can be viewed on the VIMS Facebook page at