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The perils of penguins

overcast 21 °C

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At four in the morning, the moon still hidden beneath the horizon, it was difficult to tell where the sand ended and the water began - not ideal conditions for running full-tilt down the beach trying to rid myself of an irate penguin. Instead of stopping a few metres shy of the lapping waves, there was a wet splosh! as my feet hit the water, some mild cursing, the sound of a penguin paddling happily to freedom, and the dispirited squelching of my boots as I trudged up the beach to collect another surly bird. I've never been much of a morning person.

Our corral was situated on the trail between the penguins’ burrows and the beach, blocking their morning trek to the sea, where they spend a few days catching fish for themselves and their hungry chicks before making the journey back home. For the moment, our netting barrier was creating a penguin traffic jam, as the football-sized birds bumped into their puzzled neighbours, hucking, trilling, and clamouring like disgruntled commuters.

We crept up in the dark, herding the last stragglers in and closing off the corral behind them. ‘Herding’ being the relative term, mostly it consists of standing behind them and encouraging them to waddle in the right direction. Little penguins aren’t particularly speedy on land, if they waddle too fast they’ll trip over their own feet and biff it.

Once in the corral, the birds were scanned for identifying microchips, weighed, measured, and released. Now, I know a lot of people find penguins exceptionally adorable. I’m sure many secretly dream of patting their cute, fluffy little heads or cuddling their plump little bodies. At this point, I could lie about exactly how cute and cuddly penguins are, save some face, and allow everyone to keep their warm-fuzzy penguin fantasies. However, for the good of penguins and penguin-loving people worldwide, I will forge on.

Penguins don’t like being patted. They don’t like being picked up. They find cuddling the most offensive. In fact, holding them anywhere near your body is an exceedingly bad idea if they aren’t properly restrained. I made this mistake once – and only once – as I was carrying a penguin in each arm, hurriedly, down the beach. I was halfway to the water when I felt Penguin #2 struggling loose. I readjusted and kept moving. A few steps more, and one flipper was free and flapping against me. Just a few meters, I thought, she’ll be right.

And that was when the penguin decided to bite me on the boob.

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Ironically, I had once described a penguin bite as “something like a purple nurple”, more of a pinch and twist, causing impressive bruises on hands and arms. I can now say, certifiably, that a penguin bite is exactly like a purple nurple.

Between this and the seal-pup-biting-me-on-the-arse incident (http://julia-in-oz.travellerspoint.com/3/), I’m beginning to think that small, fluffy, deceptively adorable creatures are in fact the most perilous, and that perhaps I need to start armour-plating my undergarments.

Oh, Australia. Everyone hears about the deadly cone shells, the blue-ringed octopus and box jellyfish, the saltwater crocs and great white sharks, but who would think to guard their most tender regions against ferocious seal pups and tiny, vengeful penguins?

Aussie slang of the week: ‘have a squiz’ (take a look), narky (annoyed/moody), sanger (sandwich), vejjo (vegetarian)

Posted by JuliaInOz 16:14 Archived in Australia

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