The Hydra Station was a zoological station with man-made facilities both above and below sea level, scattered around and monitored from a surveillance room. Now the Island is home to the infamous Room 23 (where Walt was taken after his abduction and Karl was later seen, apparently being brainwashed); where cages for polar bears and aquarium tanks are used to inter prisoners; where construction has begun on a runway. . . Whilst I may refer to how The Hydra has been adapted for Other-uses, my primary aim here is to imagine what The Hydra Station was like when Dharma were ruling the roost.
New to the Dharma Initiative? On day one you'll probably find yourself in a registration room where a video plays in the background, a man saying, "Barracks are surrounded by a high frequency sonar fence, to protect us from the Island's abundant and diverse wildlife". You'll be assigned a role. Maybe a workman. Or, as the video explains: "Should you be assigned to zoological study, our ferry will carry you to and from the site three times a day." (I smirk at the thought; it sounds important but, for all the "zoological study" being undertaken, there are still animals involved and that means someone is required to shovel crap - I guess that'll be the new guy!) So as a Dharma Initiative worker on the Hydra Island you catch a ferry over and are then probably required to shower and change in the locker room (where Kate would one day receive a new dress to wear) before going out to meet the animals.
It seems the Hydra Island was for both zoological study and education. The room we briefly saw, where Juliet was on 'trial' (I've not made my mind up about that), contained a lectern that would be more appropriate in a lecture theatre. The operating theatre (where Jack performed spinal surgery on Ben) had an observation deck. I have a picture in my head of people in white coats, carrying clipboards, looking down from the observation deck at serious-minded Dharma zoologists operating on a sedated polar bear. . . More on the big, white bears later - but first let's get our feet wet and check out the fish.
Jack: "This thing's for what? Sharks?"
Juliet: "Dolphins, too."
The soothing soundtrack of whale noises played into the holding tank where Jack was kept were probably used to pacify the sharks/dolphins. Remember how the room flooded? And there were chains hanging over the bench in Jack's 'cell'? I imagine a shark or a dolphin harnessed to the chains and submerged to keep it alive. Then drain out the water (shark/dolphin, harnessed, lowered onto bench) to conduct study. Probably this was how they managed to brand Dharma logos. Remember the shark that pestered Michael and Sawyer? It had a Dharma logo on its underside.
(Aside: the generic Dharma logo shown on that particular shark was intended to be there, just not clearly visible. This explains why the Dharma logo on the shark doesn't pertain to any particular Dharma Station logo we know of. End of aside.)
It's worth wondering how marine life in general is effected by the 'snow globe effect' Desmond spoke of in his attempts to sail away from the Island. In the Lost Experience game, 'DJ Dan' produced photographs of a shark that had washed up on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Upon it, not altogether helpfully, was a Dharma Swan logo. How seriously you want to take that and how deeply you want to read into it is up to you (though my frank and healthy advice would be: don't).
The surveillance room on the Hydra Island views areas inside the aquarium, the bear cages and the jungle. There are only six monitors but no telling how many cameras. I can guess, however, the Hydra does not show feeds from the Swan Station, for example, otherwise there would have been no need for Ben and Juliet to observe Jack in the Pearl Station during the Expose episode. It would be tempting to state that the cameras only view the Hydra Island, except we have seen one camera in the surveillance room appears fixed on Jacob's cabin. (You can bet the anti-technology Jacob ain't too happy about THAT!) You could suggest that Jacob's cabin is watched as further evidence that Jacob is a prisoner; given that Jacob is invisible I'd argue Ben keeps tabs on the place to check if anyone else dares go near!
The point is the Hydra Island appears well-monitored, which brings up the issue of animal freedom. How free were animals to roam? We have seen other cages (Sawyer ran past different cages when Karl let him loose during A Tale Of Two Cities) but that's not to say all animals were kept caged. What I would like to bring into the mix here is the Hurleybird.
The Hurleybird is that bizarre creature that has appeared twice (I'd argue we've heard it on other occasions). If you can recall, it was basically like a large bird of prey, like an eagle, but a bizarre camouflage-colour of green. If the Hurleybird (so-called because it potentially spoke Hurley's name!) is a Dharma-developed animal, genetic modification may have been involved to create a creature adapted to survive in the jungle (eagles generally aren't big on jungle life). I'm venturing here that Dharma's zoological study was for this aim: to modify creatures to flourish in environments they were not originally designed to exist in. This brings me neatly onto polar bears.
On the Blast Door Map was the following notation: 'Stated goal, repatriation. Accelerated de-terretorialization of Ursus Maritimus through gene therapy and extreme climate change.' That's quite a mouthful, so let me break it down into simple words.
"Stated goal, repatriation." - Repatriation is the term given to the process of returning indigenous things to their own environment. For example, if Australia suffered a viral outbreak that caused the country to be evacuated, the process of returning Australians back to their country once it was safe would be 'repatriation'. In the sense of polar bears, repatriation for them would be a return to the Arctic. So does 'stated goal' mean Dharma intended to return polar bears to the Arctic? I would say yes, but not until the experiments had been concluded. . .
"Accelerated de-terretorialization of Ursus Maritimus through gene therapy and extreme climate change." 'Ursus Maritimus' is a fancy term for polar bear. 'Accelerated de-terretorialization' means a rapid change in living environment, apparently through gene therapy and climate conditions. Or, put basically, Dharma shifted polar bears out of their Arctic environment to modify their capability to survive in tropical conditions, using gene therapy to assist the goal. Link that in with 'repatriation' and the goal becomes clear: create tropical polar bears and then send them back to the Arctic! Given that we have seen in the episode Confirmed Dead polar bear remains in the Tunisian Desert, this points to earlier attempts to make this goal a reality.
Let's not forget the polar bear cages, either. Basically they were giant Skinner boxes. (Crash course in Skinner psychology coming up! B. F. Skinner put rats in cages with a button to press. Pressing the button deposited a food pellet. The rats learned to press the button to get the food. However, sometimes the button was changed to deposit food randomly, or at intervals, or not at all - and Skinner studied the rats' capacity to learn and unlearn in accordance. Lesson over. And yes, all this pressing the button business should be ringing bells with you regarding certain other aspects of the Dharma Initiative!) The polar bears had a relatively complex series of buttons to press in their cages in order to get fish biscuits, which basically seems to echo Skinner's Rats experiments on a larger scale.
So we can understand the experiments on polar bears pretty well. What we can't understand so well is the purpose of these experiments. For example, you may or may not feel strongly about animal testing. Some poor rabbit (probably not with a number on its back!) strapped down in a laboratory somewhere with make-up shoved in its eye is not a pleasant thought - but there is a purpose; the goal is to determine if the product is harmful to humans. Whether it's right or wrong is a debate for another place, but what can't be denied is that there is a point. So what are we to make of genetically modified polar bears enabled to exist in tropical conditions?
My guess would be along the lines of comparative psychology. That is, the psychological study of animals to enable understanding of human behaviour by comparison. Taking the polar bear study, the concept of the experiment is to change a living thing to make it adaptable to environments it was originally unsuited to, "for the betterment of mankind" as Alvar Hanso might say. Dharma were giving evolution a nudge. And given there's such a thing as a Valenzetti equation that predicts the destruction of the human race, it would seem to me that mankind will be required to adapt in order to survive.
If the polar bears can do it, maybe so can we.