Examples: puffers and moonfish."
"They're an insult to a frying pan!" the Canadian exclaimed.
"Are you grasping all this, Ned my friend?" asked the scholarly Conseil.
"Not a lick of it, Conseil my friend," the harpooner replied. "But keep going, because you fill me with fascination."
"As for cartilaginous fish," Conseil went on unflappably, "they consist of only three orders."
"Good news," Ned put in.
"Primo, the cyclostomes, whose jaws are fused into a flexible ring and whose gill openings are simply a large number of holes, an order consisting of only one family. Example: the lamprey."
"An acquired taste," Ned Land replied.
"Secundo, the selacians, with gills resembling those of the cyclostomes but whose lower jaw is free-moving. This order, which is the most important in the class, consists of two families. Examples: the ray and the shark."
"What!" Ned Land exclaimed. "Rays and man-eaters in the same order? Well, Conseil my friend, on behalf of the rays, I wouldn't advise you to put them in the same fish tank!"
"Tertio," Conseil replied, "The sturionians, whose gill opening is the usual single slit adorned with a gill cover, an order consisting of four genera. Example: the sturgeon."
"Ah, Conseil my friend, you saved the best for last, in my opinion anyhow! And that's all of 'em?"
"Yes, my gallant Ned," Conseil replied. "And note well, even when one has grasped all this, one still knows next to nothing, because these families are subdivided into genera, subgenera, species, varieties--"
"All right, Conseil my friend," the harpooner said, leaning toward the glass panel, "here come a couple of your varieties now!"
"Yes! Fish!" Conseil exclaimed. "One would think he was in front of an aquarium!"
"No," I replied, "because an aquarium is nothing more than a cage, and these fish are as free as birds in the air!"
"Well, Conseil my friend, identify them! Start naming them!" Ned Land exclaimed.
"Me?" Conseil replied. "I'm unable to! That's my employer's bailiwick!"
And in truth, although the fine lad was a classifying maniac, he was no naturalist, and I doubt that he could tell a bonito from a tuna. In short, he was the exact opposite of the Canadian, who knew nothing about classification but could instantly put a name to any fish.
"A triggerfish," I said.
"It's a Chinese triggerfish," Ned Land replied.
"Genus Balistes, family Scleroderma, order Plectognatha," Conseil muttered.
Assuredly, Ned and Conseil in combination added up to one outstanding naturalist.
The Canadian was not mistaken. Cavorting around the Nautilus was a school of triggerfish with flat bodies, grainy skins, armed with stings on their dorsal fins, and with four prickly rows of quills quivering on both sides of their tails. Nothing could have been more wonderful than the skin covering them: white underneath, gray above, with spots of gold sparkling in the dark eddies of the waves. Around them, rays were undulating like sheets flapping in the wind, and among these I spotted, much to my glee, a Chinese ray, yellowish on its topside, a dainty pink on its belly, and armed with three stings behind its eyes; a rare species whose very existence was still doubted in Lacépède's day, since that pioneering classifier of fish had seen one only in a portfolio of Japanese drawings.
For two hours a whole aquatic army escorted the Nautilus. In the midst of their leaping and cavorting, while they competed with each other in beauty, radiance, and speed, I could distinguish some green wrasse, bewhiskered mullet marked with pairs of black lines, white gobies from the genus Eleotris with curved caudal fins and violet spots on the back, wonderful Japanese mackerel from the genus Scomber with blue bodies and silver heads, glittering azure goldfish whose name by itself gives their full description, several varieties of porgy or gilthead (some banded gilthead with fins variously blue and yellow, some with horizontal heraldic bars and enhanced by a black strip around their caudal area, some with color zones and elegantly corseted in their six waistbands), trumpetfish with flutelike beaks that looked like genuine seafaring woodcocks and were sometimes a meter long, Japanese salamanders, serpentine moray eels from the genus Echidna that were six feet long with sharp little eyes and a huge mouth bristling with teeth; etc.