As spellbound as we had been by Professor Stewart's anecdote, the spell was broken, a moment later, by Flora Gentile exclaiming that the surprises weren't over.
"Look what Dora recorded next, when she panned back to that dragon ship."
We centered our attention back on the screen of the VCR's monitor. Once again, we were looking at the anomalous presence of Colpophyllia natans. Then, just as I was about to ask the twins what they were talking about, it happened.
Something came scuttling between two of the corals.
I recognized it right away as one of the sleepy sponge crabs from the lagoon. Sponge, hitchhiking jellyfish polyp, and all. Then I spotted another...and another...and another. All of them entering that circle of coral!
Ninety seconds later, there must have five dozen of the odd crustaceans scuttling around and around like square dancers. With more and more joining them every second. Then without any warning, the jellyfish polyps started detaching from the sponges.
"They're becoming ephyra," exclaimed Professor Stewart: "The free-swimming larval stage preceding final metamorphosis into full adulthood!"
Indeed, they were. But, the surprises did not end there. Larger organisms suddenly started swimming into view. More specifically; sea turtles. Loggerheads and leatherbacks both! The latter started munching on the C. capillata gundersoni, while the former went after the sponges on the backs of the crabs. Of course, half the time the crabs reluctantly went along for the ride! Dangling upside-down by the hind legs they persisted in trying to keep clamped on to the sponges.
Eventually, however, those legs got chewed through; sending them back down to the sandy sea floor. And, thus, totally exposing these crabs to the shoal of flying squid that now came zipping in from nowhere to swamp them! The shoal, in turn, attracted a school of barracudas...aong with something else.
"Oh, my God!" I whispered, half aloud.
What we initially thought were specimens of brain coral turned out to be a bunch of Commerson frogfish. The size of Goliath groupers! And they were now "hopping" forward to scoop up the flying squids still stubbornly duking it out with the sponge crabs!!
Yet, even more surprises were in store for us. Because, it turns out that the frogfish had been sitting on a perfect circle of mushroom coral (Fungia scruposa). And, once they had vacated their perches? A veritable cloud of Protosyngnathus manticora rose up! Attracting some of the barracuda away from the flying squid.
Subsequently, shrinking those that swallowed them to the size of sardines.
"Holy Shit!" I heard Gary Latimer exclaim (unwittingly echoing what I had said in the main bio-lab).
I looked at Professor Stewart.
"Prof, we have to get everybody back here. So we can capture whatever ephyra they miss!"
He nodded in agreement, adding: "Imagine it. A communal feeding frenzy centered around the arrival of female sea turles heading for their nesting beach. It's unprecedented!"
Captain Corbett was then instructed to radio Jann Decker to bring the dry sub back in. Meanwhile, Celeste and I would take the speedboat into the lagoon to pick up Lydell Briggs.
* * * * *
INTERLUDE THE FIRST
Dell had gotten bored sitting around the beach, waiting for the speedboat's return. So, he decided to kill some time by following a surprisingly clear path leading inland from the beach. And, at first, the path remained on level ground. Then, gradually, it began to slope upward. As he continued following it, however, he began to hear something that sounded faintly like...singing.
"What the frig?" he thought: "I must be going island-happy."
But, the singing not only continued. It got louder and clearer. Until, finally, he had located its source.
A nine foot-tall, half-naked Polynesian woman picking air potatoes off of two rows of evenly-spaced palm trees.