Written by and Photos Courtesy of Dr Wayne Bennett
We are 14.
In addition to Theresa and me, twelve nascent physiology minions now occupy The Wet Lab. For the first week the minions were running hot on enthusiasm and euphoria. The problem with euphoria and enthusiasm is that it burns up in the atmosphere quickly and is soon replaced by something much more difficult to control. Complacency. The “newness” has worn off, water changes are late, temperatures creep out of range, careful and frequent observation of animals is replaced by the occasional cursory glance. The reality of scientific inquiry begins to set in, many repetitive tasks without a foreseeable end. In the background Hoga’s cabanas sing their siren songs trapping the unwary and undisciplined. Time has no meaning on the cabana and like Ulysses, students can awake to find they are too late to complete their quest. Theresa and I redouble our warnings, emphasizing tales of disasters past. But the cabana beckons and our warnings are largely discounted as unnecessary hand-waving. Chicken is not amused.
De-gas day arrives at weeks end with much fanfare, a time where 90% of students and staff take a day of rest. Lab animals, however, never take a day off, instead they busily go about eating, excreting, scouring oxygen from the water and replacing it with carbon dioxide, all the while happily trashing their water quality. On this day, 68 brushtail tangs cheerfully move around their new artificial habitat*. They were collected so we might see what adaptive acclimation responses they possess to help them survive the impending rise in sea temperature. As we sit at the lodge discussing the upcoming week, Theresa abruptly looks up and says “We need to check the fish”! Intuition? Precognition? Magic? It makes no difference, I believe in my soul that Theresa possess all of these things, and so I follow to the wet lab without question.
Disaster! The tangs now languish on the bottom straining to move water across gill surfaces in an attempt to strip the last few precious molecules of oxygen from the pool. Theresa and I know our parts, and few words pass between us. Soon airline, power cords, and hoses snake across the floor and the pool is transformed from habitat to trauma center. Most people are familiar with Murphy’s Law but few know his correlate which states “No problem is so bad that it can’t get worse”. The Wet Lab lights dim, a 4000-Watt transformer chooses this moment to melt down sending unlimited amperage surging through our equipment. A submersible pump explodes and catches fire in the pool** and a now super-powered air pump blows geysers of water into the air. There is no panic, just determination as the new crisis is rectified. A call goes out, students assemble, in a moment of solidarity everyone rallies to save a crippled project.
We were 14, now we are one***.
*A six-foot kiddie pool decorated with smiling sharks and ridiculously cute crab caricatures
**Indeed, it is possible to have fire under water – I didn’t think so either.
***Yes we saved every tang!