The sea is a vast but a very regular place, rhythmically bound to the comings and goings of the sun and moon. Many strange creatures in the sea have an extraordinary time sense and are most regular in their habits. Considering this, it is unusual that the eminent ichthyologist and diver, Dr. Eugenie Clark, a professed lover of the sea and an authority on marine life, seems to have no sense of time at all. In the process of leading a successful double life as an ordinary housewife and as director of the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., Dr. Eugenie often tries to be two places at once and rarely gets anywhere on time. Many of the simplest creatures of her acquaintance have built-in clocks, but Eugenie Clark, a complex, thinking woman, has none. Her stomach is not dependable; she has skipped so many meals to catch up in her work, it no longer complains. She often consults the petite lady-diver's watch on her wrist, only to discover that it is later than she thinks.
Although the hours of her day and the days of her calendar steal away like deserters, Dr. Clark somehow manages to keep her two lives moving on. As a mother she is concerned daily with the upbringing of four children and the complicated distribution of them to various schools, to the doctor and dentist, to music lessons and to fun and games. As director of the Cape Haze lab, from day to day she is involved in the collection, care, feeding, training, dissection and observation of a variety of creatures, some commonplace and others downright queer. If a parasitologist working at the Cape Haze lab suddenly needs specimens of the green leech Pontobdella macrothela, it is Dr. Eugenie's duty as lab director to find fish that harbor the proper leech. When a pathologist needs the 100-pound liver of a live tiger shark, she must provide the shark. If visiting animal behaviorists from Europe want to observe bass in a sexually active state, she must catch the bass and deliver them before the love-light has faded from their eyes.
Dr. Eugenie sometimes finishes work with only a few strands of her dark hair askew. At other times she ends up smelling like a tubful of fish guts, but even on the grisly days, when evening comes, she washes the blood and Formalin away, tucks her fishiest thoughts well back in her mind and becomes the mother of four and the attractive companion of Dr. Ilias Konstantinu, an orthopedic surgeon who loves motorcars and mountains and is most tolerant of his wife's affection for the odd kingdom of the sea.
In the course of any successful double life, naturally, certain compromises are necessary. As a wife and mother Dr. Eugenie is no longer as footloose and flipper-free as she was 17 years ago when she first put to sea with two academic degrees and a nagging curiosity. Recently she has lunched with Lady Bird Johnson in Washington and with the First Lord of the Undersea, Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau of France, but it has been a long time since she has dined on dugong at Ghardaqah with Prince Hassan of Jordan, or visited King Ueg on the far Pacific island of Mog Mog, or chewed betel nut with Urdkl, sister of Siakong, the mighty Palauan spearfisherman. In recent times she has trained sharks in Sarasota waters and searched for pipefish in the Red Sea, but it has been a good dozen years since she chased sand crabs with the governor of the northern Marianas and, with her present duties, there is little chance she will ever go again to hunt the poisonous fish called meas, or its elusive cousin, the klesbuul, at Geklau on the east coast of Babelthuap.
In view of her exotic past Dr. Eugenie can be excused if she is not, in every trifling way, a conventional woman. On catching sight of the sea for the first time in a new place Dr. Eugenie may wade right into it exuberantly but unscientifically without shedding her street clothes. She has been known to do this and think nothing of it. In the past 17 years she has worked, not only in the conventional halls of science, but also among distant people who have few clothes or inhibitions to shed. She has dived in the waters off the island of Ngulu, where the Micronesian natives earn their living making fertility statuettes. She has been to Fais, where women walk crouched over with their backs parallel to the ground in the presence of men, and she has speared fish with the Sonsorol islanders, who for no apparent reason greet Catholic priests by sniffing their hands. If Dr. Eugenie prefers broiled dugong or the raw adductor muscle of the giant clam to a conventional dish like pompano en papillote, remember, at this point she is a gourmet's gourmet. On one island or another she has tasted a good deal that the sea has to offer and has earned the right to be discriminating.
Dr. Eugenie is a child of the world's delightful differences. She was born in New York City of a French-English father and a Japanese-Scottish mother. Although she was raised by her Orient-oriented mother and grandmother, she joined the Presbyterian Church because—she now suspects—the local elder was a fish-and-reptile fancier who gave her a snake as a baptismal present and Ditmars' Book of Reptiles on her confirmation day. In 1951 she was married in Egypt to Dr. Konstantinu, an Orthodox Greek who had studied in Austria and the U.S. Considering the many people and rituals she had been exposed to, it is no wonder that Dr. Eugenie, nervous bride, nearly botched her own Greek Orthodox wedding. Instead of merely kissing the ring when it was passed to her, she tried to swallow it like a communion wafer.
Although she has not wandered farther than the Red Sea of late, Dr. Eugenie has neither the inclination nor the time to look back nostalgically on the distant islands of yesterday. In the local Florida waters she has plenty of fish that are worth knowing better. Since 1955, in addition to her routine duties as lab director she has spent some time observing Serranus subligarius, a runty, popeyed, white-bellied bass that is common around Sarasota. Compared to her sorties among the clown-colored fish of the Indo-Pacific, Dr. Eugenie's pursuit of the ugly little local bass seems very drab—the most convenient spot to dive to observe and collect specimens is along a channel bank off a Sarasota dump, where the trash of the city mingles with the flotsam of the sea. While she is getting into her diving gear at the dump, a few fishermen, or cops in a prowl car, occasionally will stop to find out what she is up to. Sometimes a great blue heron stalks by, cocking an eye at her like a curious, uncomprehending drunk. Ignoring her limited audience, Dr. Eugenie gets the cumbersome diving tank properly hung on her 5-foot 3-inch frame as best she can. After clinching the waistband of the man-size pack around her hips, she lurches through the shallows until she has depth enough to settle in, then flippers out around the edge of a decaying iron bulkhead.
Since the visibility is rarely more than five feet and the tide often better than half a knot, Dr. Eugenie usually works at a depth of 17 feet along the channel edge, where jubilant fishermen have liberally seeded the bottom with beer cans and empty whiskey pints. Around almost every beer can, around every limestone outcropping and clump of yellow sponge her quarry, Serranus subligarius, frisks about, flashing its white belly one moment, then disappearing into labyrinths in the rock and sponge. By prodding with a pocket comb in one entrance of a labyrinth, Dr. Eugenie tries to persuade a panicky bass to dart out of another opening, over which she holds a specimen jar. The bass sometimes obliges, but often it escapes through a different hole and reenters still another, thus keeping the game alive. As Dr. Eugenie prods and the bass darts, the surrounding sea life seems stimulated. Spadefish suddenly wing in, swirl around her and as suddenly vanish. A school of grunts weaves by, stupidly watching until a blast of her exhaled air scatters them. Below her left leg a large stone crab, an armored coward, emerges part way from a hole, eyes the pale flesh of her thigh, makes a cursory pass at it with one claw, then retreats, keeping his guard well up until he is safe again in his corner. Dr. Eugenie breaks off the hunt occasionally, cocks her head and glances upward, harking to the soft singing of motorboats overhead. She pauses now and again to examine some oddity, to bash open a sea urchin and eat a bit or sometimes simply to admire the soft decorator colors of the tunicate and algal growths that cover the underwater section of the rusty bulkhead.
Back at the lab after collecting about a doze specimens of Serranus subligarius, Dr. Eugenie, or a trained assistant, will watch the bass for several tedious hours. Dr. Eugenie has discovered that the little local bass has a stranger love life than any exotic fish—stranger indeed than any of the higher vertebrates. Each Serranus subligarius is both a male and a female. It can, if necessary, fertilize its own eggs, not internally like some degenerate fish, but externally, as if it were two different fish at once. In addition, when mingling with others of its kind, each bass sometimes behaves as a female and in a matter of seconds may become a male—and vice versa. Early this summer, when three dozen ichthyologists from North America, Europe and Asia gathered at the Cape Haze laboratory to review the strange sex life of various fish the world over, the star of the show was the home-town kid, Serranus subligarius, born and raised on a local dump.
To be sure, if the sex life of Serranus subligarius had never been exposed by Dr. Eugenie the world would have kept turning—for that matter, if the human race had never risen off its knuckles somehow the world would have managed. At Cape Haze, as at any worthwhile lab, some energy is expended on pure research as well as in pursuit of answers to practical problems. It was the simple falling of an apple on his head that started Isaac Newton thinking and, similarly, the habits and mechanics of unimportant creatures often provoke modern man into having new ideas. It is only recently, for example, that high-flying men have learned how to determine true ground speed, a technique first uncovered by biologists while studying the compound eye of a stodgy little beetle that somehow acquired the knack but had gotten almost nowhere with it since the dawn of time.