Even I Have My Limits
Friday Fragments: Smelly Returns!

The Poop Tale


So I promised Nicole I'd tell this story, and now I'm here to do just that.

Forewarning: if you get grossed out easily, maybe don't read this one. It's not really THAT nasty, but as you may have guessed, poop is involved, so... it's your call.

In, oh... 1999 or 2000, I was in grad school in Tampa, working on my Ph.D. at the University of South Florida under this great man. (It's true; you can ask him.) I was there to study the ecomorphology of shark feeding habits, basically. That's the backstory.

For our ichthyology class, we had to partner up and do some kind of study. My partner was G. At first, we were going to do an aggression study on Betta splendens, but it didn't work out. So when we went on a research trip to the Dry Tortugas, G and I saw an opportunity to do a different sort of study.

In a nutshell, we were going to survey a few randomly-chosen areas of the reef during dawn and dusk and tabulate data on the changing apparent fish populations during those periods of time. To be more specific, G chose one spot, and I chose another, and over the course of an hour or two in the early morning and again in the evening, we documented which fish species were present each minute during the survey periods. {Whatever ended up happening with that data is beyond my recollection, so don't ask me. I can tell you about other studies I've been involved with, but somehow I doubt anyone cares!}



So in order to get to our reef survey locations, we had to borrow another student to motor us from our research boat over to the correct area in this sort of dinghy. That student stayed in the anchored dinghy, reading a magazine or whatever, while he waited for us to conduct our observations.

So picture me, hovered with my mask, snorkel and fins, at the top of about 10 or 15 feet of water, in crystal-clear water, with a pretty good current going in the direction from my head to my feet. I had to swim against the current constantly to keep my eyes locked on my square-meter quadrat on the reef, all the while writing furiously in pencil on my waterproof paper. (Oh yeah, they make that. Did you know?)  Some minutes, only one or two species were visible, while other minutes, there had to have been at least 20 - and I had to get them ALL written down every minute.

What I'm trying to explain is, I was busy! It was a little insane. Thinking back now, I could have developed a better system, using code to notate which species I saw, but that's neither here nor there anymore. The point is, I didn't have any time for distractions or interruptions.



Now, I don't know what triggered the feeling deep in the pit of me that I was going to have to poop, but I think it was the food we'd eaten at dinner that night on the boat. And I could tell, from the sick feeling that I was getting in my belly, that it was not going to be solid. This was going to be one messy shit, when it made its appearance.

I was floating around in the middle of the water, about 100 yards from the dinghy and G, when a juvie nurse shark, about four feet long or so, swam into my quadrat. If you know anything about sharks, you know that this should not have been cause for alarm. There's a saying, "Don't pull the nurse shark's tale," which basically means, unless you molest her, she's going to leave you alone. Nurses aren't like Great Whites. They're pretty docile. But at the time, essentially alone out there with the occasional barracuda giving me the eye, it was enough to spook the bowels and get the ball rolling. So to speak.

I can't remember exactly what I had on, but I think it was a t-shirt and shorts over my bathing suit. In any case, I was 30 minutes into my hour-long study period and I had to GO. NOW.

I had no choice. I wasn't going to make it. It was coming.

So I timed to the next minute. Wrote down my species as fast as I could, swam backwards for five or ten feet, pulled my clothing to the side, and crapped into the ocean as hard and fast as I could so I could get back to my quadrat in time for the next minute's data.


I felt a little better, but I wasn't done. Now, in addition to all the other activities I was simultaneously doing, I had to keep an eye on where my poop was going, so I didn't end up swimming into it and inadvertently getting some of it in my snorkel! It was tense. It didn't help calm my tummy down at all.

Five or so minutes later, I had to repeat what I'd done: Back up, pull to the side, and ram it out of me like a shot, into the dark water.

I did that at least three more times that night, while still trying to be conscientious about collecting the correct data.

Eventually, I gave up. I had about 10 minutes left, but I just couldn't stay there any more. I was sick to my stomach, I was weak by all the fighting against the water and having excessive runs, and I was tired. I decided to call it a study and swam back over to the dinghy.


To my surprise, G. was there, already sitting in the dinghy. He didn't look well either, but both of them were in there chuckling. I was puzzled. 

After I managed to haul my chubby self into the boat, I started to inquire about why G. had given up the study early, since I knew I had, and he was there before me.

Turns out, he'd gotten sick and had been forced to crap in the ocean a whole bunch, and he was too exhausted to go on.

I could relate...and we all had a good laugh when I revealed that I'd suffered the same fate!

So there's my story, Nicole. Hope you enjoyed the straight poop on the time I had to crap in the ocean!