This is Osborn, co-lead of expeditionary team number two. Should that be capitalized? I don't know, but when reduced to an acronym is becomes ET 2, which is appropriate, I think, for the strangeness of our surroundings. I'm still somewhat skeptical that extraneous thoughts such as these are allowed, desired even, in these reports. Ms. P., our fearless leader, claims that keeping our personal reports more diary-like is useful because it gives the psychologists back home something to look over and make sure we aren't going crazy. Apparently there are a number of psychoses specifically related to sideslip travel. One, Biosphere Detatchment Disorder, or Pervasive Unfamiliar Environment Disorder, or something (I'm sure none of those are correct), is when an organism freaks out over the accumulated pressures of a completely novel environment. The theory is that this world is a completely separate biosphere, and so all or most of the subtle cues and such we're instinctually used to recieving from the environment are different, and the mind will either adapt or go into a state of perpetual stress and crack. Even if that is a legitimate psychological condition, I don't know if this world, strange as it is, is unfamiliar enough. At some point in the distant past it did branch off into its own spacetime, but prior to that it and Earth were identical. One overarching goal of everyone's work is to find clues as to when that branching-off may have occurred, to add to the cladogram of worlds they're piecing together in some university back home. All I know is that prior to some point in this world's past, be it the Carboniferous period or 1492, our two worlds were identical, so there must be at least some level of basic similarity to comfort the primitive parts of the subconscious. The lapping of the waves on the shore of Jolly Roger Bay, certainly, is familiar and comforting enough.
Expeditionary team number two is an aquatic research team. Our airborn drones have given us a general idea of what kind of landmass we're on, though they apparently get too clogged with spores or otherwise malfunction in some way before they get far enough to map the rest of the world (which drives the security guys fucking nuts). But we do know that we're on an Australia-sized archipelago made up of four large main islands with an inland sea a bit larger than the Caspian in the middle of them. Base camp is located on the land bridge between the dry southeast island and the heavily forested northeast island, where expedition team one has gone and expedition team three will go, respectively. Back on topic, my own expedition team is west of base camp, on the shore of the interior sea.
Downing, our oceanographer, named the place Jolly Roger Bay, and is also responsible for the absurd names we've given the local fauna. He says I can give them more serious scientific names if I want. Seeing as how I'm the marine biologist of this outfit, that's awfully generous of him. We spend most of our time in our makeshift laboratory tent on a bluff overlooking the bay, collecting and analyzing the data that our MUUVer gathered for us. Yes, our very own military unmanned underater vehicle. It's a more gentle and scholarly craft than the real deal underwater drones that the military uses back home, but it's still equipped to defend itself should the need arise.
The inner sea--surprisingly, Downing has not yet given it a silly name--seems to be a rather uniformly warm and shallow sea, not unlike the inland seas of Cretaceous North America. The ecosystem, I am happy to report, is lush, productive, and, not surprisingly for this world, rather strange. Fish of numerous species are plentiful, but they are universally bulbous, shaped more like domestic goldfish than the laterally flattened reef fish that one is used to. The most common types can readily be divided into two groups, the members of which are easily similar enough to be considered family-level clades, or even members of the same genus. The grazers of the reefs are the blurps, placid fish the size and shape of grapefruits, which rasp algea off the rocks and corals with sandpaper like beds of tiny teeth. Slow-moving, they defend themselves by lodging their bodies in the reef when predators pass by. The different species come in numerous colors, but a bright green type with orange lips and fins seems to be the most numerous.
Keeping the blurps' company are the cheep-cheeps, similar in size but slightly more hydrodynamic in shape, more of a swimming lemon than a grapefruit. In keeping with the citrus simile, the most common type is bright yellow orange. They are much more active than blurps, with larger and more well-developed fins that can easily propel them out of the water in flying leaps, the point of which are not yet known. Down in the water they make a living by eating small invertebrates and flaring their fins at each other in apparent territorial displays. Whether they do this all the time or we caught them during breeding season, I don't know. Downing named both blurps and cheep-cheeps after the noises they make, little liquid grunts and rasping chrips picked up by the MUUVer's sensitive microphones.
Similar in size, though assuredly not in shape, to blurps and cheep-cheeps are urchins. Despite their name, they appear to be crustaceans rather than echinoderms, perhaps highly derived amphipods or branchiopods. Legless and completely enclosed in their round, spike-encrusted carapaces, they move about the water column on controlled jets of water. They appear to be filter feeders.
I cannot yet say with any certainty what earthly clade of fish cheeps and blurps are most closely related to (though after reading Rhoad's report about rhinosauruses and possibly GMed dino-chickens, I'm in no position to complain). One of their main predators, though, I'm sure is a type of frogfish. We call it the ripper fish (easily the least silly of Downing's labels), and like the fish that I'm sure are its earthly homologues, it lies still and camoflaged upon the reef until its pray is close, and then it strikes. Though scarcely larger than the blurps and cheep-cheeps it calls lunch, it makes up for this shortcoming with its tenacity and sheer bad temper. Though normally colored cryptically, when alarmed it can turn a startling shade of purple.
Also feeding upon blurps and cheep-cheeps is the blooper, named, Downing says, for its eratic movement pattern. A most unusual squid, two to three feet in length, off white in color, and with its eyes aranged on top of its head instead of the sides. It prowles the floor of the reef, where its milky skin blends in with the sand, peering upwards with its bizarre eyes until it spots its prey. It then jets upwards in a series of abrupt jerks ("Bloop, bloop, bloop!" claims Downing), and snatches it up with its tentacles. Perhaps even more remarkable than its oddly arranged eyes are its reproductive habits. We have seen several adult bloopers moving about with a gaggle of smaller ones, presumably their offspring, in tow. If this is as it appears, it means that bloopers are remarkable among the cephalopods in that they live long enough to care for their own offspring. There is even behavioral evidence that the majority of these offspring are not the bloopers own, and are looked after by the 'nanny' blooper while other members of the group are off hunting. This implies a fascinating level of cooperation and social structure in this species, and demands further study.
The largest and least common denizen of the reefs we've yet discovered is what Downing has dubbed the porcupuffer. Five feet in length and nearly spherical aside from its tail, it competes with the floating urchin-crustaceans for the title of spikiest on the reef. Despite its size and unwieldiness, its frighteningly toothy maw declares it to be a predator, favoring blurps, the only fish less agile than itself. Bloopers and cheep-cheeps are too swift to be caught except by accident, ripper fish are too well disguised, and urchins are obviously too spiny. Which begs the question: why is the porcu-puffer itself so well-defended? It implies the existence of much larger predators in the inland sea. Once, while directing the MUUVer to return from a sweep out beyond the reef, Downing claims to have caught a glimpse of an enormous eel-like fish on its camera. Unfortunately, it was nearly dusk at that point and the only footage was too dark and grainy to make out anything clearly. Regardless, in spite of how inviting its warm waters may appear, I shan't go swimming in the inland sea anytime soon.
Downing also claims to have spotted a sunken ship out beyond the reef, but the MUUVer caught no footage of it and a retracing of its sweep that day showed nothing out of the ordinary (by the standards of this place, at least). He also claims to have picked up "clearly artificial" low frequency noises with the MUUVer's microphone, the recording of which will no doubt be sent in with his own report. After the ghost ship incident I'm skeptical, but I reserve judgment, because after all, this is a new strange world, and we've only yet explored its tiniest corner.
I think I'm going to call this project Xeno Mario World, unless someone has a better suggestion. All of these guys are enemies from Super Mario World, except for the blooper, and there was an allusion to an enemy from one of the other games that you might have noticed. The "real" name for the ripper fish in the game is Rip Van fish. I changed it because what the hell does that even mean, anyway.