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. 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 ruled 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.” 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’, 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 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.)
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. Of course, Jacob’s cabin is prone to appearing and disappearing – so maybe it ‘popped up’ on Hydra Island and was captured on CCTV!
I’m not so convinced, really (probably it was just a little easter egg put into the show) but it’s largely irrelevant. 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. It makes sense that dangerous animals like bears were kept caged, but what of other less-threatening creatures? What I would like to bring into the mix here is the Hurleybird.
The Hurleybird is that strange 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 their 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!
Ah, you may think, but what about the polar bear remains that were found in Tunisia?
Personally, I get the impression the polar bears used here were most likely used over in The Orchid for experiments there. Unrelated experiments. I’ll discuss that more with The Orchid Station post, but the most tenable reason to claim that the experiments at The Hydra had nothing to do with The Orchid come from Pierre Chang. He was of the opinion the work at The Hydra was nothing more than “ridiculous experiments”. This may actually be the most hard-hitting point to be made about The Hydra Station’s work than anything else we can glean, but it pretty much sums up Chang's utter distance from it. Perhaps he just borrowed polar bears from The Hydra, ones that had been potentially changed to exist in hot conditions, to see if they could survive in the desert (whilst also testing the fundamental properties of the Orchid time-travelling wormhole!).
Back to The Hydra, though, and the purpose of that facility. The polar bear cages, for example. 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 (button-pushing test on rats, discussed in The Swan post) experiments on a larger scale.
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. Strangely, though Pierre Chang may have thought this pursuit was ridiculous, there’s a thematic alignment with a discussion that took place between these two. . .
Ostensibly, Jacob and ‘Nameless’ had opposing views about the people that came to the Island. Nameless was of the view they were unable to adapt, bringing their destruction with inevitable routine. Jacob held hope that the same old routine only needed to change once for it to mark progression. Bizarrely, if the studies on animals were comparable to eventual study on humans, the work at The Hydra had an alliance with Jacob’s view. A marked change needs only to occur once for dramatic progression to be made real. Like a polar bear, or an eagle, designed to survive in the jungle. . . If the polar bears can do it, maybe so can we.