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Remember the Rainforest 1

 

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On May 3, we sighted a short distance from the coast of Sardinia, the Toro, a bare rock that rises from the sea, and shortly thereafter Sao Pedro, the westernmost tip of that island. Many porpoises were playing around our ship, and they warned, according to the experience of the sea owl, that the wind was going to change, which indeed soon happened. Overcome by various phenomena, we realized that we were approaching the broad ocean; among others, above all, the strong phosphorescence of the sea. In the voyage from Trieste, there had been only small bright spots in the sea; now, however, at night it seemed that the ship was sailing in liquid fire in bunches, and the deck, as it lowered and wavered to meet the waves, was all surrounded by light.

Contemplation of this magical night vision overwhelms the viewer, especially when he has not had the opportunity before to sail the ocean in such splendor.

The sea boiled with glittering globs, and with every thud of the ship against the waves it sparked sparks, like those of red-hot iron, when the blacksmith struck it, and the sparks illuminated all around. Beyond these thousands of tiny spheres of fire were also large luminous bubbles, and more profoundly by the ship; however, in the distance the spheres were also noticeable, where the waves were breaking with sparkles. The darker the night, the greater the magnificence of this phenomenon; also, for this reason, on moonlit nights it was less visible, and only on the shadowed side of the ship. In many descriptions of sea voyages, this beautiful spectacle has given rise to argument. Forster opines that it is produced partly due to the electricity caused by strong friction, partly phosphorescence from rotting animal materials or the agglomeration of luminous animals. Adanson, and with him the most modern nature researchers such as Humboldt and Peron, attribute these luminaries exclusively to mollusks, zoophytes and other marine animals.

Nor have we missed the occasion to examine this important subject with the utmost care. We filled some bottles at night with the bright water of the sea. Our hands and all that was wet with this water shone, and in the bowl, as soon as it was stirred, the water sparkled with specks of fire. The next day, examining it with the aid of an excellent microscope by Utzchneider and Fraunhofer, this water revealed a multitude of sometimes round, sometimes elongated, corpuscles of bubbles the size of a poppy seed. Each had at one end or vertex a tiny hole with six to nine strands that now floated inside the bubble, and with which it seems that the animal clings to the foreign bodies to suck from them.

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