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Sensuous Seas

Sensuous Seas: Tales of a Marine Biologist

Sandy Chichester Rivkin
Susan L. Kaplan
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Sensuous Seas
    Book Description:

    Learning marine biology from a textbook is one thing. But take readers to the bottom of the sea in a submarine to discover living fossils or to coral reefs to observe a day in the life of an octopus, and the sea and its splendors come into focus, in brilliant colors and with immediacy.

    InSensuous Seas, Eugene Kaplan offers readers an irresistibly irreverent voyage to the world of sea creatures, with a look at their habitats, their beauty and, yes, even their sex lives. A marine biologist who has built fish farms in Africa and established a marine laboratory in Jamaica, Kaplan takes us to oceans across the world to experience the lives of their inhabitants, from the horribly grotesque to the exquisitely beautiful. In chapters with titles such as "Fiddler on the Root" (reproductive rituals of fiddler crabs) and "Size Does Count" (why barnacles have the largest penis, comparatively, in the animal kingdom), Kaplan ventures inside coral reefs to study mating parrotfish; dives 740 feet in a submarine to find living fossils; explains what results from swallowing a piece of living octopus tentacle; and describes a shark attack on a friend.

    The book is a sensuous blend of sparkling prose and 150 beautiful illustrations that clarify the science. Each chapter opens with an exciting personal anecdote that leads into the scientific exploration of a distinct inhabitant of the sea world--allowing the reader to experience firsthand the incredible complexity of sea life.

    A one-of-a-kind memoir that unfolds in remarkable reaches of ocean few of us can ever visit for ourselves,Sensuous Seasbrings the underwater world back to living room and classroom alike. Readers will be surprised at how much marine biology they have learned while being amused.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3564-5
    Subjects: Aquatic Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE: What Is a Marine Biologist?
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. PROLOGUE: The Perils of Teaching
    (pp. 1-2)

    I am standing at the front of the classroom on the first day of class, wondering what inspirational message to deliver to create the proper learning environment. The class is quiet—few of the students are acquainted with one another as yet. The door opens and in walks Miss Nubile, the fabric of her white blouse straining in beautiful curves like the sails of a ship running before the wind. She is armed to the teeth, like that most fearsome of old time sailing battleships, the Portuguese man o’ war. Her cannons are her luscious curves and there is an...

  7. 1 Deadly Darts
    (pp. 3-8)

    Iridescent purplish balloons skittered across the sea in a fresh breeze, destined to wash up in windrows on a sandy beach like the remnants of a child’s birthday party. A little boy wandered along. Curious, he bent over to pick up a stranded “balloon.” The “string” touched his leg. An excruciating pain emanated from the point of contact. The child staggered back and fell among the balloons. He writhed in agony, the stings causing a spiderweb of red welts like whiplashes on his skin. A stranger happened along and carried the now semiconscious child to the nearest first aid station...

  8. 2 The Great Jade Green Octopus Hunt
    (pp. 9-19)

    Raggedly, in a confused cadence, the words wafted across the velvet black night, “Oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light?” Knee the Caribbean Sea, surrounded by spiny sea urchins, a class of frightened bathing suit-clad American students was singing the stirring words of the Star Spangled Banner. In the distance a storm was brewing. The roar of thunder, punctuated by flashes of lightning, uncannily evoked the moment of creation of our national anthem in the “rockets’ red glare.”

    We were standing in the warm sea about a quarter mile off the jamaican shore. Dense darkness rendered the...

  9. 3 Bedtime Stories
    (pp. 20-28)

    On the second day of our field course the students are faced with a terrible prospect. Some have been known to cry. Their tortured looks focus on a piece of paper tacked to the wall. It is the list. On it are 100 dauntingly unfamiliar scientific names, likeTripneustes ventricosusandDiadema antilarumThe challenge is to identify each organism and classify it as to phylum class, order, genus and species—and to describe its ecological niche (role in the environment). The cause of the students’ consternation is the offhand comment by the instructor that the information required will appear...

  10. 4 Garden of Eden: The Death Apple and the Tree of Life
    (pp. 29-35)

    Long ago and far away there existed a tiny island where cooling trade winds always blew, yet the sea was glassy calm. A little “mountain” a few hundred feet high suggested aspirations to join the other British Virgin Island. It almost succeeded, but for a watery barrier between the island and the rocky shores of Virgin Gorda. A lazy stream of seawater flowed perennially through this channel, so narrow that you could almost shout across it. A current evoked by the wind’s long fetch down the broad Sir Francis Drake Channel met tidal waters pouring from the surrounding embayment, the...

  11. 5 A True Romance Story
    (pp. 36-45)

    The shimmering glow of the full moon created a dappled path for me to follow. Pinpoints of light off in the distance were my destination. The night was soft and warm. The young lady in the bow of the boat smiled coyly at me. I blushed. She had won my heart that day by fearlessly wallowing in the mud flats up to her thighs. I had hoped that once her mud-flecked face was washed, beauty would be revealed. It was a relief to see that she had cleaned up nicely. We were destined to dance the night away at the...

  12. 6 Elixir of Love
    (pp. 46-51)

    The young man knocks on the door, a bouquet of sweet-smelling flowers in his hand. The young lady on the other side of the door dabs a drop of scent behind her ears. She coyly accepts his gift. “They smell so lovely,” she says. He replies, “Not half so lovely as you smell.” Smell is a strong sexual instrument. The flowers and perfume are designed to stimulate sexual desire through subtle olfactory suggestion. Viewed abstractly, this is not so subtle. The young man is handing his belovedthe sexual organ of a plant,the flower. She is using a concentrate...

  13. 7 Skinny South Sea Sausages
    (pp. 52-58)

    Brown-skinned men and women slide their canoes into the roaring surf on this bright moonlit night. Beyond the surf tiny flickers of light, the moon’s bright reflections, dapple an otherwise velvety sea. A vague white line off in the darkness demarks the insignificant surf weakly thrusting itself onto the protective fringe of reef offshore. The water’s dark surface seems inviting instead of dangerous this evening. Beyond the reef a treasure lies beckoning in the distant darkness.

    The full moon this October night signals the initiation of an ancient oceanic rite. Outrigger canoes slide through the warm water. Paddlers dip their...

  14. 8 The Only Male Reproductive Organ with a Name
    (pp. 59-65)

    The male squid approaches the female and jealously guards her from his competition, all the while undulating his fins and darting to-and-fro. Flaming bands of red and lavender pulsate down his tubular body. As the mating dance becomes more frenzied, his color darkens to purple, then blanches; he becomes almost invisible. Accepting his charms, the blushing female turns pink, then lavender, waves of color rippling across her body. At the moment culminating the mating dance, he removes a sperm packet from his spermatophoric gland with his fourth right arm and places it into the mantle cavity of the female. She...

  15. 9 Living Lance
    (pp. 66-73)

    A hundred men pull a thick, rough rope, occasionally stumbling on the slippery sand, backs bent as powerful testimony to their labors. The women of the village mill around at the water’s edge. occasionally one or two jump up out of the throng to better see the sweaty scene. All loudly shout encouragement in that strange mixture of Dutch and an African dialect called Papiamento. A puller courteously steps back, offering me a three-foot section of inch-thick rope on which to pull. It fills my hand with its rough, splintery width. The rope extends out to sea in an almost...

  16. 10 Role Reversal
    (pp. 74-82)

    The seaweed sways to-and-fro with the ocean swells, yellow-tan fronds glistening in the sunlight. The movement is so regular as to be hypnotic. Bulb-like swellings blister the flat, strap-likeSargassumstrands, accentuating the flowing movements. Seen from above, their spikey projections poke out of the ocean’s flat surface, making the ten-yard-wide mass appear as a golden carpet. The fluidity of movement is interrupted. Barely discernable, the outlines of two shadowy, miniature horse-like shapes can be picked out of the seaweed jungle. Their color exactly matches that of the seaweed, and the sinuous movements of their dorsal fin “manes” replicate the...

  17. 11 Super Male
    (pp. 83-88)

    Drifting along like a gray cloud, deep in the shadows of the reef front a school of somber-colored fishes stretches as far as the eye can see. Occasionally two or three burst from the school, darting upward in a whirling pattern. At the peak of their ascent, a tiny gray cloud appears—a mass of eggs. At the moment of expulsion of the eggs, the one or two consorts augment the cloud with puffs of white sperm. The fecund mixture, an undulating diaphanous shadow, drifts off, dispersing in the currents. Another pair or triplet dart from the shadowy school and...

  18. 12 Miracle Fish
    (pp. 89-98)

    The thin, far-off strand of sound intruded into my awareness above the bustle of city traffic. It grew into the deafening roar of a warplane, stabbing at the kernel of fear that had lain dormant in my mind over the thirty years I had been away. The plane flew overhead, a giant blowtorch. Four tiny dots of light spurted from its tail, like a fish spawning flaming eggs. I realized these were flares to confuse heat-seeking missiles. I shuddered as I thought of the fear that must be instilled in the target by this ferocious, deafening sound—and was grateful...

  19. 13 Fugu
    (pp. 99-106)

    With a ladylike little stagger, she said, “Let’s get out of here, the lights are getting to me.” The hyper nightlife of Tokyo’s Ginza was palling and the screaming two-story-high neon lights flashing glaring red incomprehensible messages were giving me a headache.

    “I need seafood,” she slurred, “There’s a place.” In the dimness of a back alley appeared a small wood oval sign. It was carved in the shape of a fish. With my arm draped over her shoulder, we tipsily entered the dim, appealingly quiet restaurant. I noticed that the only clientele seemed to be elderly Japanese men. “Why...

  20. 14 Bunnies of the Sea
    (pp. 107-115)

    The night is dark. Loaf-shaped shadows move in the shallows. Olive drab, camouflaged with black leopard spots, they sluggishly slime their way through the sparse sea grass. A flashlight’s beam reveals giant shell-less snails, some almost a foot long, moving at a literal snail’s pace toward the darkness outside the light’s halo. The head is adorned with two pairs of projections. The first, flat like the ears of a rabbit; the second, antenna-like. It is the first pair that identifies these huge snails asAplysia dactylomela,the sea hare. And bunny-like they are.

    Sea hares mate frequently. They find each...

  21. 15 Passion for Purple
    (pp. 116-121)

    Once upon a time (ca. 1200 B.C.) a man was wandering along the seashore. A crunching sound underfoot led him to examine the sole of his sandal. Crushed into a smeared mass was an inch-long snail surrounded by a halo of purple. History was changed at this moment and destiny dictated the rise and fall of empires based on the purple secretion of this abundant Mediterranean rock snail,Thais haemastoma.*This man, his identity lost in the clouds of time, scratched his head and thought. His musings created an industry that made his city-state Tyre, famous, and his nation, Phoenicia,...

  22. 16 Size Does Count
    (pp. 122-130)

    The waves crash onto the rocks with a lion’s roar. They return to the sea with a soughing whisper. In between the to-and-fro lie big green-black rocks covered with filamentous bright greenEnteromorphaseaweed and the rubbery, tough brown alga,Fucus,resplendent with its necklace of oval bladders. The ebb of the waves stretches the seaweeds out to their fullest lengths. Their root-like holdfasts, seemingly embedded into the rocks, clutch the unyielding surfaces desperately. Respite from this violence occurs briefly for an hour or two when the tide goes out, uncovering the rocks. No longer do the waves smash against...

  23. 17 Fiddler on the Root
    (pp. 131-137)

    It is a balmy tropical evening, music is in the air. The dance begins. He makes his move, a sly beckon. He crooks his finger at her and waves enticingly while rapidly bowing his fiddle. She approaches. His beckoning becomes faster and faster. The music intensifies. He flexes his finger like the villain in a silent movie. If she likes the tune he plays on his fiddle-shaped major claw and is seduced by his gestures, she enters his dark lair. Soon she leaves the nuptial chamber, pregnant. Deep inside her body lies a packet of sperm to be saved for...

  24. 18 Beware the Duppy
    (pp. 138-144)

    The full moon creates a silvery sheen over the vegetation. The warm, sultry seaside air hangs heavy over the nearshore scrub forest. A scrabbling sound is heard—first a whisper, then becoming a susurrus of sibilant sounds. Tens, then hundreds of tapping footfalls become louder and louder until the soft sound of the surf is suppressed under the rattling of pointed feet on the dry fallen leaves of the forest floor. Ghostly gray shadow-like forms glide through the vegetation like huge spiders. The “duppies” are on the move. In Jamaica, African ancestry is not far below the surface, and duppies...

  25. 19 The Secret of an Improved Sex Life
    (pp. 145-151)

    I have no secret to improve thehuman sexdrive. Perhaps Viagra or eating oysters is the answer. But I can drive a shrimp into a sexual frenzy—at a sacrifice. Just cut off an eye.

    How does a one-eyed shrimp mate? Very frequently and with reckless abandon—possibly to the death.

    At the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology some colleagues were trying to induce mating in the tiger shrimp,Penaeus monodon.It is the largest species of commercial shrimp, and if one is willing to ignore its large, dark stripes, it is the most delectable. Thus it is a...

  26. 20 How to Court a Female
    (pp. 152-158)

    Among the smells of the male prawn’s primary food, rotting organic matter (detritus), is the faint suggestion of sexually changed molecules—the aroma emitted when a female prawn is about to shed her carapace. These molecules, present in incredibly small amounts, are perceived by olfactory receptors in the flickering antennules of the male prawn, initiating a genetically dictated sequence of actions. Constantly tasting the life-sustaining water currents, he is drawn to the source of this almost imperceptible molecular aroma.

    This stimulus evokes the automatic male response, a search for the source of the smell. Upon finding the female, the male...

  27. 21 The Anti-BLB Club
    (pp. 159-165)

    Grumpy, fuzzy scholarly-type was beside himself. He was suspended halfway up a vertical wall made of layers of shale and had reached an impasse. He could go neither up nor down. The ten-foot-high wall was made of inch-thick ledges protruding irregularly from the mesa, and he had run out of ledges. He was stuck. The distinguished professor of physiology and evolution had nowhere to go. I heaved at his bottom and someone pulled upward. He scrabbled onto the flat, dusty, hard surface, prostrate. After a minute he rolled over, tears of exertion in his eyes.

    There were about ten people...

  28. 22 Sea pussy
    (pp. 166-175)

    The bottom, only six feet below, was barren sterile-appearing sand as far as the eye could see, the only relief occasional tufts of sea grass and chunks of dead coral. No movement. No life. I didn’t understand. This was the reputed sea urchin paradise in the echinoderm epicenter of the Caribbean, Jamaica. I returned to the lab and recruited an urchin expert. At his direction the boat revisited that very spot. He dove to the bottom and waved his hand. Presto! A brown, fuzzy urchin appeared. What was the magic formula? What was the secret of finding urchins in this...

  29. 23 Debunking the Big Lie
    (pp. 176-182)

    The rakish bow of the old wooden sloop cut through the water, creating a small, glistening bow wave. The gaff-rigged mainsail ballooned outward in response to the freshening breeze. The boat listed slightly to starboard in response to the combined pull of the sail and the “net” being dragged along the bottom.

    At the end of the run, the captain signaled the helmsman to turn “hard a’ lee” and the boat swung away from the wind, sails luffing impotently. The “net” lines sagged as the boat’s forward velocity waned. The captain signaled a crewman to operate the winch. Boom groaning,...

  30. 24 A Peek into the Anus of a Sea Cucumber
    (pp. 183-189)

    The sun is setting. The blasting intensity of the tropical sunlight dims. Shadows creep from the coral heads like black fingers grasping the grassy bottom. Darker shadows stir from grottos and niches in the coral. A nighttime population replaces the light-loving inhabitants of the reef and turtle grass bed. Soldierfishes and bigeyes, identified by their red color and large, light-absorbing eyes, drift slowly up from their daytime hideaways in the reef. The parrotfishes and damselfishes descend into the dark arms of the coral.

    In the turtle grass meadow, all seems still. Then an almost imperceptible movement whispers through the shallow...

  31. 25 The Yellow Submarine
    (pp. 190-199)

    The launch seemed to be circling aimlessly. Suddenly, as if in a movie, the bow of a submarine broke the water about twenty feet from us. It was a far cry fromThe Hunt for Red October,and the chubby man who poked his head out of the conning tower was no Sean Connery.

    The submarine was tiny, no more than twenty feet long, and its bow was a five-foot-diameter convex glass lens through which could be seen two raunchy-looking characters in faded tan shorts. This was a research vessel and the two oddballs were well-known marine scientists. We pulled...

  32. 26 The Perils of Vanity
    (pp. 200-205)

    Once upon a time there lived a beautiful princess named Andromeda. Her father was the rich King Cepheus and her mother was the renowned beauty Queen Cassiopeia. Unfortunately, the Queen knew how beautiful she was, and in a more assertive manner than the witch in Snow White, looked at her reflection in the sea and said, “I am the most beautiful of all.” She was overheard by the ubiquitous sea nymphs called nereids. Each nereid, being partly immortal, fancied herself the most beautiful of all, and took great offense. They complained to their daddy, Poseidon, who decided to lay waste...

  33. 27 Sexually Repressed Victorian Taxonomists
    (pp. 206-213)

    I have an image of Victorian taxonomists as cobweb-covered fellows locked in a museum attic, thinking sexually repressed thoughts. This image derives from their peculiar penchant for naming the most unappealing organisms after the most beautiful mythological goddesses. The most blatant example of these wandering thoughts would be the origin of the names of annelids (segmented worms). These phallic animals should ordinarily inspire one to think of male gods, like Zeus and Apollo, but since many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century taxonomists were frustrated males, we find a variety of wormy species with female nomenclature.

    Like these men, I find exquisite beauty...

  34. 28 Random Ramblings on Relationships
    (pp. 214-221)

    The shadows of dusk enveloped our boat hidden among the spidery aerial roots of the vast mangrove swamp. Across the muddy, tea-tinged water of the lake the sun still shone brightly, creating a halo around a huge, spreading mangrove tree, its leaves shimmering in the waning light. As we watched, the green slowly became suffused with white. Whiteness begat whiteness as the tree, appearing to be a gigantic snowball, began to melt whiteness into its neighbor. Finally, a third neighbor became infected with spreading whiteness. The ghostly color became amorphous and restlessly flowed from tree to tree in an ever-changing...

  35. 29 Penile Bloodletting
    (pp. 222-231)

    The lab director asked, “The class is taking a field trip to Altun Ha (an ancient Mayan Indian city) in a few days. Will you give them your lecture on Mayan culture?” “Sure,” I answered.*

    After dinner the class assembled, dazed and exhausted after a day in the field. I searched my mind for a “hook” to motivate them. Inspiration! “Today I will DEMONSTRATE penile bloodletting as practiced by the ancient Mayan Indians.” Slowly, as the word “penile” was separated from “penal,” eyes opened and backs straightened in anticipation. After all, it is not every day that a professor would...

  36. 30 Death and Confusion
    (pp. 232-241)

    Roll camera. The handsome, muscular star walks into the shallows. Cameras follow every move. A microphone on a boom records every sound.

    Ominous shadows are visible everywhere in the shallow waters. This is Bull Shark Cove on one of the Bahama out islands, Walker’s Caye.

    A spotter is stationed behind the star. His sole responsibility is to distract an overly aggressive animal by throwing a dead fish far away from the star.

    A huge female bull shark moves too close. The spotter yells and throws a fish chunk. Unfortunately, a remora detaches itself from the shark and bites the chunk...

  37. 31 Eyeball to Eyeball
    (pp. 242-252)

    He sashayed into the room, Hawaiian shirt reflecting glorious underwater scenes. A lock of unruly blond hair partly obscured one eye. Extending a muscular, tanned hand, he greeted me warmly. As the class came to order he chose a seat and was immediately surrounded by adoring coeds.

    After class he wanted to chat and we went to my office. He explained his unusually informal social behavior. It seems that he had been a navy diver until an accident forced him to seek a landlubber’s life. But the sea drew him like a magnet and he washed up on the shores...

    (pp. 253-256)

    The earliest events described in this book (chapter 5) occurred at a marine laboratory off the coast of Washington state in July 1954. The most recent story (chapter 29) happened in a marine laboratory off the coast of Belize in July 2004, a period of fifty years. What have I learned about teaching in the half century between those events?

    There is a conflict in the mind of every teacher as to how much “knowledge” must be sacrificed in order to make a course interesting. In the narrow sense, knowledge is how many facts can be crammed into the student’s...

    (pp. 257-263)
  40. Illustration Sources
    (pp. 264-264)
  41. Index
    (pp. 265-271)