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Ship Logs

Heading Out (9/8/02)
by Mark Heckman

Morning started for me at 5 am as usual. My youngest daughter, Skye, woke me up with a questioning, "quah?" or, "is anyone there? It is Skye's birthday today. She is one year old. We had been planning a big party for this weekend months ago. In Hawai'i a baby's first birthday is a very big event. Everyone you know, and more, is invited for a baby luau. But, instead I am off on an expedition to a remote set of islands.

Expeditions are part of our human history. What is your ancestry? Were your predecessors Chinese, Polynesian, African, or Northern European? Scratch just below the surface and you will find adventurers, migrations and expeditions there. Sometimes these expeditions were woven into the fabric of life; the Vikings come to mind here. My own Scottish ancestors left Scotland for Canada and then ended up in North Dakota looking for a better life. Now, here I am, one thread of that ancestry that has made it all the way to Hawai'i. Where has your ancestry taken you, around the block or across the world?

The expedition we have set out on today is one of biological discovery. These also have a long history. We travel today in luxury. Our boat, the Rapture, has staterooms, heated showers, and fresh fruit and vegetables to eat. In the past, biological expeditions were risky affairs. They sometimes took years to complete, boats were cramped, food was certainly not fresh and entering on such a journey was far from safe.

During one Danish expedition of the 1700's, for example, five men set out, but only one returned alive. The naturalist perished of malaria in Egypt. Only his notebooks made it back. This is not the sort of odds most of us modern explorers really want to go with. Still, one of the results of that expedition was the rather important naming of a group of small tropical fish, the Sergeant majors. These pugnacious damselfish often have bars (like the stripes of a military sergeant) on their sides. The scientific name for these fish comes from the Danish expedition. Their scientific name is Abudefduf. A name that is most entertaining and enjoyable to say. "Abu", like the name, and "def duf". Try it.

If you ever meet one of one of these fish, greet by name. Say, "hi, Abudefduf." And think of the history of that name - of the nature of humans to explore and discover, of risks, failures and ultimate success; all of this, in the naming of a little fish.


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