(Seal pups and such)
05.01.2008 - 08.01.2008 34 °C
My life’s been insanely chaotic yet remarkably organized the past few days. I got one good night’s sleep, packed up the few belongings I had (or bought) outside of my lost luggage, and took off for Port Fairy (a three hour drive west) to meet up with crew and catch our boat to the field site.
I saw my very first kangaroo on the drive out, I was thrilled. There were a few hopping around way out in a pasture, but it’s very hard to mistake a roo for anything else. I also saw my first wallaby from the boat and my first koala on the way back, unfortunately it was roadkill. We stayed in a campground at Port Fairy for the night, and headed out to the pub for dinner. There’s nothing in the US that can hold a candle to real pub culture, be it Irish, British, or Australian. I was quickly introduced to the Australian custom of everyone "shouting" a round, buying a jug (a pitcher, basically) of beer for the table.
The older folks headed back to camp, but jet-lagged or not, I wasn’t going to miss out on staying out at the pub with the boys (“This is real Aussie culture,” they encouraged). What’s the fun in moving to a new country if you can’t find people to make fun of you (or, “take the mickey out of you”, in Oz) for being American? It was great fun. Incredibly, I hadn’t been in Australia for 48 hours, and I was out at the pub with one of the zoo’s seal keepers! After a few days in the field together we’re great friends, and he’s promised to let me come visit and learn about training at the zoo.
We went out to an island to mark and recapture Australian (and a couple New Zealand) fur seal pups for a population census. I had no idea what I was in for. For some reason, I had imagined cuddling tiny, adorable bundles of fur and fun like young Galapagos sea lion pups, maybe spray painting a dot on them or something. Ha. No. Not so much. I was given knee pads, a pair of scissors, and a quick demonstration. Then I was turned loose to chase after three-month-old seal pups that looked cute but ended up being 15-20 lb bundles of muscle and ferocity.
How to Mark Pups:
Step 1. Tramp around rocky beaches and outcrops reeking of seal feces and decaying seal carcasses to find pups.
Step 2. Reach into a smelly crevice filled with big eyes and toothsome mouths and grab a hind flipper. Drag a growling, squalling pup out (as it relieves itself on your hand).
Step 3. Get a hand on its neck and sit on it before it can wriggle around and bite you.
Step 4. Give the seal a nice haircut (left-handed, while it continues to struggle mightily).
Step 5. Let go and back off without getting bitten.
Step 6. Repeat 500 times.
Fortunately we had a team of six, so I didn’t actually have to mark 500 pups myself, but between the two teams we did over 2000 pups in two days. With the jet lag, the heat (90 degrees or so), and the bruises, it was a pretty rough two days. I only got bitten twice, fortunately, both times through my pants so there wasn’t much bloodshed, although I have puncture-marks in my thigh. The second time was entirely Bruce’s fault, he swung his pup around while I was busy pinning down a pup, and his bit me right on the bum.
Seal wound on my thigh
All in all it was a great adventure, but catching seal pups is no longer my dream job. It’s neat to get to do once in a while, don’t get me wrong, but it’s rough, smelly, chaotic, and exhausting work, and the pups are terrified and hate every minute of it which just makes me feel bad.
The people here are terrific, I haven’t met one I haven’t liked so far. They’re just generally courteous, friendly, and good-humored, making it really easy for me to fit in and feel comfortable. For the next few days I'll be chilling in a hostel, exploring Melbourne, and trying to find a place to live.
Aussie slang of the week: Snags (sausages), Budgie smugglers (men’s speedo swimwear)