National Geographic : 1957 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine tor carried tied to his belt. For their benefit, he emptied these, his afternoon's haul, onto a bared coral rock.* "Ted," I ventured, while the others were examining these more or less routine speci mens, "will you lend me that melwardi? I'd like to put it in my laboratory aquarium. Maybe the red mantle will come out and I can photograph it." Mr. Johnston placed his treasure in my hand. Later that night we saw deep-red mantle tissue rise from the creature's under open ing, slowly enveloping the sides and finally covering the entire surface of the shell. Then a red foot spread out underneath. Tiny eyes mounted on delicate stalks peered in all directions as the mollusk began moving about in exploration of its new aquarium environ ment (page 24). What a difference between living shells and those found in the collector's cabinet! Or, as Emerson once observed: I wiped away the weeds and foam, I fetched my sea-born treasures home; But the poor, unsightly, noisome things Had left their beauty on the shore, With the sun and the sand and the wild uproar. Ernie Grant, with whom we had consulted in Brisbane, joined us on Heron Island during the last two weeks of our stay there. In addition to his position with the Great Bar rier Reef Committee, he is Queensland State Marine Biologist. Catching Parrot Fish Barehanded For weeks before his arrival I had been trying with only a modicum of success to obtain specimens of various species of parrot fish often seen in the reef shallows. During our discussion of angling methods, Ernie said in what I thought was a humorous boast: "Easiest way to catch parrots is with your bare hands." My eyebrows went up. "All right," was his rejoinder, "come out on the reef this after noon and I'll show you." Three hours later we were knee-deep in the ebbing tide. Ernie peered into the distance toward somewhat deeper water. Abruptly he pointed: "There's a school. Now watch...." He hurried toward the spot, explaining on the way that he aimed to drive the school from coral head to coral head, into ever shallower water, until the fish would prac tically expire from exhaustion. "And how about you?" I asked. "Oh, the parrots get tired long before I do," he replied. Soon he was a hundred yards ahead of me, stepping high through the shallows and around coral patches. Whenever any of the fish, still invisible to me, would try to escape to deeper water, Ernie would yell and charge ahead in a wild effort to head them off. At length I could see that he was gradually closing in. Suddenly he stopped near a large half-submerged coral head and beckoned to me. As neatly as a man picking a blossom off a potted plant, Ernie reached down into a crevice of the coral and came out with a five pound fish, so fatigued that it had hardly enough resistance left for a final flop. The fish was pink with mottlings of pale green, and its bony parrotlike "beak" was bright green. Needless to say, I was impressed by the specimen, but more so with the method by which it had been taken. Sting Rays Lurk in Shallows At dusk Ernie and I sometimes went to the east end of the island where sting rays, seen from the beach as dark and ominous patches, lay in the shallows feeding. He was study ing the habits of these dangerous creatures and periodically needed to examine a series of sting rays for size and sex. His collecting equipment consisted of a conventional casting rod with a cluster of unbaited hooks at the end of the line. With exquisite deftness he would cast and drop the hook cluster just beyond one of the black patches, give the line a quick jerk, and then wind the reel at maximum speed. He might have to play the snagged and furiously struggling ray for several minutes. But eventually the creature would be beached; Ernie would make his measurements and observations, then get ready for the next cast. The man was a real wizard with that line. Sometimes on such ray-fishing expeditions Eda and Virginia came along. When the show was over, we would all return to the inhabited end of the island by following a short cut through the jungle of Pisonia and pandanus. This was indeed another world from that of beach or reef (page 47). If it was after dark and we were using the electric torch, the gnarled white Pisonia * See "Shells Take You Over World Horizons," by Rutherford Platt, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, July, 1949.