Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/690

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
668
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

A SCHOOL FOR THE STUDY OF LIFE UNDER THE SEA.

(Naples Aquarium.)

By ELEANOR HODGEN PATTERSON.

TO go deep down under the sea, in the warm waters of the south, where exist not only the varieties of fish with which we are familiar, but thousands of jewel-like forms of animal life never seen by us, has hitherto been impossible to any but the boldest fishermen and divers. But of late years in the small aquarium at Naples the sea has been brought up, so to speak, upon the earth for us to see these strange creatures as they exist in their homes under the water, as they eat their food, as they love and hate, and prey upon each other.

Small as the collection at first seems to be, there is no zo├Âlogical station in the world to compare with it. Probably there never will be again. Because of its advantageous station on the shores of the Mediterranean, where it is claimed the waters which wash Italy and Sicily yield a greater variety of sea life than even tropical waters, and also its comparative accessibility to all countries, the scholars who come here from all over the world find that they are able to study here as they can nowhere else the strange habits of the tiny animals down at the bottom of the sea.

There is no superfluous room taken up in the Naples aquarium for the fish that may be studied in aquariums elsewhere. Only the rarest, the strangest, the most curious creatures are here to be seen.

But one room of the beautiful building devoted to the zo├Âlogical station, which stands on that street of Naples running along the sea, is shown to the public. One walks into it from the level of the street, and the transition from the light outside to strange semi-darkness is as if one were to suddenly find himself walking upon the bottom of the sea.

The light comes only from above, shining through water of many hundreds of cubic feet, on to what seems at first a garden of moving flowers behind tanks of clear glass, which seem, so complete is the illusion, not like glass at all, but water. The visitor walks along dark alleys lined on both sides with these brilliant tanks, and the beautiful sea animals are so close that it seems easy to touch them. It is like being in a narrow, dark theater with the stage all around and about, strangely illuminated, not by footlights, but by a radiance from above.

There are about thirty tanks in all, and at the very first of these glass-walled vats we stopped entranced. Behind it were piles of rocks shining in the water, and from every crevice grew what seemed