Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/623

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
605
THE MARINE BIOLOGICAL LABORATORY.

The village itself is absolutely without business, except the daily shipment of fresh fish to the Boston and New York markets. In years long gone by, like the neighboring seaports, it was interested in the whale fisheries, and a recollection of those oily days still remains in the old stone candle factory where the spermaceti was made into wax candles. Later the Pacific Guano Company established here its extensive works, to which the phosphate rock of the Carolina rivers was brought, pulverized, treated with sulphuric acid, and converted into fertilizers for the farmer. But a few years ago the company failed, and the property has all been sold.

The United States has considerable interests here. There is the lighthouse wharf, where the supplies for the whole district are kept. To this wharf every buoy and channel-mark is brought each year to receive its coat of preservative copper paint; and here is almost always to be seen a reserve light-ship to replace any that may be injured upon the many adjacent shoals. The revenue marine has also its wharf here, where its steamers obtain their supplies of coal and the like. Here, too, is the place where one leaves the dusty cars of the Old Colony Railway for the cool and comfortable steamers for Cottage City and Nantucket. Not these, however, but rather the scientific aspects of the place, interest us at present.

There is no place like the sea-shore for the student of natural history. On the one hand, we can turn to the fields and streams, and find there essentially the same animals and plants which occur a hundred miles inland; on the other, we have the wondrous wealth of life of the ocean, so rich as to almost surpass belief. This richness is of two kinds: First, there is the wealth of numbers, a wealth which is far beyond that of any fresh-water expanse; and, second, the astonishing variety of forms. Whole groups of animals are abundant in the ocean which are absolutely without representatives in our rivers and lakes. Sea anemones and corals, star-fishes and sea-urchins are wholly unknown in fresh water, while thousands of other marine forms have but a few insignificant representatives in ponds and streams.

Nor is this richness either of forms or of individuals the only advantage the sea offers the student. The marine animals often have a greatly different history from their fresh-water relatives. One of the most important studies of the modern naturalist is that which traces every phase of growth of an animal from the time the egg is laid until the adult condition is reached. It is hardly necessary to say that the theory of evolution is no longer a question for discussion with him. He accepts the principle and makes it the key-note of all his investigations. He is now trying to ascertain the various lines of descent, rather than to test the