Field Research

Field Research is Always Important

A story is only as good as the research behind it. Therefore, in my unceasing quest for accuracy, I decided it was high time I went out and conducted a bit of research in the field. The fact that the desire to do research coincided with a certain birthday is totally inconsequential.

The question as to just where this research was to be performed sparked considerable debate. Of course, the town of Colony Island is fictitious – or at least I think it is – so doing my research on location was out. So was doing my research in Florida, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, etc. as this is the high season for refugees from places like the frozen tundra of New Jersey.[1]

Seeing as how the bills of Christmas past are still amongst us, an executive decision was made to keep the proposed research close to home and under budget. After that, the choice of a destination was easy.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD

On Friday, January 27, we loaded our research gear on Amtrak and rolled northward at a civilised pace. A station stop in Alexandria, VA allowed me research and confirm ideas for a scene in the 2nd book of the Colony Island series, Syrena[2]. We arrived in Baltimore[3], set up a base camp at the Fairfield Inn, and proceeded to reconnoiter the Inner Harbour area in advance of Saturday’s research excursion at the National Aquarium.

Let me begin by saying he National Aquarium is a marvelous place to explore. I do think Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium has an overall edge on the National. Nonetheless, it is still very well worth your while to visit.

Visiting Australia

Kookaburra - Field ResearchOur first stop was an exhibit on Australia’s Northern Territory. We liked it so much we went through the exhibit twice. Amongst the animals we encountered was a Kookaburra[4] bird and a Meterns’ water monitor. We compared this animal with a Parsonage litter monitor and decided the two were not related. One is a lizard whilst the other is a cat[5].

Jellyfish

Blue Blubber Jellyfish - Field ResearchMoving on, we observed Dolphins at play and members of the coelenterate phylum going about their daily business. One of the later books in the Colony Island series will include a plot line concerning an invasive species of jellyfish. The author also recounted – for the umpty-eleventh time – his close encounters with Sea Nettles. The exhibit was nice but perhaps not as comprehensive as the exhibit at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium in California.

While I was not expecting a live specimen, I had rather hoped there would at least be a display covering the Box Jellyfish (class Cubozoa) These coelenterates are found in the coastal waters off Norther Australia and throughout the Indo-Pacific region. Species such as Chironex fleckeri, Carukia barnesi and Malo kingi produce an extremely potent venom. These are probably the most venomous animals known. Stings from these species can be – and very often are – fatal to humans[6].

Blacktip Reef

From there, it was on to the other exhibits. If I were to tell you everything there was to know about the wonders of the National Aquarium, this post would go on for days.

We did see a Humphead as well as a Slingjaw wrasse in the Blacktip Reef Exhibit. In Syrena, the second book in the Colony Island series, Penelope will tell Peter she had a pet wrasse as a child. She could never tell for sure if it was the same wrasse but there was one which always seemed to recognise her at that particular spot on the reef.

Besides the fish, we also saw these colourful characters in exhibits covering the jungles that contribute their water to the sea.

Emerald Tree Boa - Field Research Blue Frog - Field Research

 

What About Mermaids?

Divers at the National Aquarium - Field ResearchI was distressed to find there were no mermaids to be seen at the National Aquarium. I was informed, however, that the mermaids at the aquarium swim south to the Caribbean immediately after New Year’s. They don’t return until sometime in the Spring. I also learned the best place to see them is at the Hooters, across the Inner Harbour. When they’re in town, several of them have part-time jobs as waitresses.

Instead of mermaids, we got to see these Diver Fish. It appears told the fin colour has something to do with the age of the fish

Finally

Following the aquarium, we toured the USS Torsk, a Tench Class submarine from WWII. We also toured the USS Constellation[7]. The fact that the author has inhaled the entire Aubrey/Marturin series of novels by Patrick O’Brian  was of great assistance during his exploration of the USS Constellation.

USS Torsk


[1] The appellation has its origins in an unfortunate slur cast upon my fellow Southerners by a woman who happened to be my fiancée at the time. My subsequent retort cast the Garden State as a ‘frozen tundra’. After nearly forty-two years of holy deadlock, nothing has changed.

[2] If you want to know more about the scene, you’ll have to buy a copy.

[3] My father spent part of his boyhood in Baltimore. (He also spent a good part of his youth in Parlin, NJ.) I belong to the Baltimore St Andrews Society. I paid enough inheritance tax on my Aunt’s estate, that I feel qualified to call myself a citizen of Baltimore.

[4] Sadly, an old gum tree was not included in the exhibit.

[5] The Parsonage litter monitor is an eight-year-old semi-Siamese tiger-monkey, part tiger but mostly monkey, whose mission in life is to cover everyone else’s business in the litter box while expelling as much litter from said box as possible.

[6] There is little or no information on how these stings affect mermaids.

[7] It should be noted that this ship is the sloop built in 1854 and not the earlier frigate which bore the same name. By the way, did I mention the sloop was built in Norfolk, VA?

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