In Jules Verne’s 19th century novel, “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas,” Captain Nemo’s ship, Nautilus, is camouflaged to appear to be a whale. Be confident that University Maine swimmers Kevin Staples and Jeremy Bender would not have been tricked by the attempt to portray the ship as a whale.

Both Bender and Staples, marine scientists, have rejoined the Black Bears this semester after studying the first semester at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, identified as one of the world’s premier tertiary institutions by two systems which evaluate higher education.

“I am really impressed with the support from the Maine swimming program allowing us to pursue our academic interests,” Staples, a senior from Mount Desert Island commented.

Bender from St. Paul, Minn., agreed.

“I think it is pretty cool that the swimming program supported us,” he said. “Hopefully, we will prove that you can have this experience and come back and race well at championships.”

In fact, Bender, a junior, noted that when he was exploring colleges and interviewing with coaches that not all collegiate swimming programs supported the idea of a marine science exchange program during a swimmer’s four years of eligibility. He added, however, Maine swimming coaches very much supported his interest.

Actually, Bender, the team’s most valuable swimmer for 2008-09 and 2007-08, began to nurture his marine science interest when he started scuba diving at the age of 15. This summer he will be interning with the National Marine Fisheries, studying sharks.

Staples, who like Bender was named to the America East Academic Honor Roll for 2008-09, and who also received the Palmer Team Award for Academic Excellence last season, entered as a freshman undecided but will graduate this year having decided during his study at Maine that his career path will be marine science. More specifically, this year’s team captain has a particular interest in the effect climate change may have on the ocean’s temperature.

During their exchange study at James Cook University, Staples and Bender — four days a week for 6-8 hours a day — drew samples from coral reef ecology comprising one of world’s most complex ecosytems, Great Barrier Reef. While they expected the active research, they had not anticipated research report writing.

“We did not expect the heavy writing demands. We did a lot more writing than we do at Maine,” they both stated.

The volume of writing produced between 8-10 papers following the format required in scientific journals. But, the research and required analysis offered them an opportunity to explore marine science from more of a biological view than a physical view, the emphasis of their studies at Maine.

“It was really cool to have had this experience and to know that I did it on my own,” Bender said.

Even though they were in the water almost daily for their studies that did not equate to the demands of competitive swim training.

“We did the very best we could to stay in shape,” Staples explained. Admittedly, the return to second semester training was a challenge. “It was pretty brutal,” he added when referring to those training sessions immediately following their return to the Wallace pool.

“I was doing two-a-days everyday when we returned,” said Bender, who swims distance freestyle, 200 butterfly and 400 individual medley.

“I think we are going to swim well at championships. This year, we are doing a lot of neat things in our training,” he added.

“I feel like a real swimmer again,” Staples admitted. The sprint freestyler and backstroker comfortably rejoined the team. “It is a family and everyone gets along well.”

The Black Bears compete in the America East Championships later this month. And, there will be no camouflage on Staples and Bender. It will be apparent to all that they are racers intending to excel just as they do in their studies.