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Settling in to island life

sunny 22 °C

After a week of hostel-hopping and searching, I finally found a place to live. I’m renting a room in a lovely little house about five minutes walk from campus and right next to Melbourne public transit. Right now I only have one other housemate, a very nice aussie girl who is studying at my uni, but two other students are supposed to be moving in soon. It’s wonderful to have a place to call home and not have to live out of suitcases any more.

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That said, two days after I moved in I was packing and off to another island to do seal work again. This time we went to my island (the one I’ll be conducting my study on) to mark/recapture seal pups and to get samples for the zoo’s epidemiology work on seal parasites. We drove out to an absolutely gorgeous park east of Melbourne, hopped on a little boat, and hauled all our gear up some cliffs to the campsite where I’ll be spending so much of my time in the next two years.

The view from my campsite:
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The island is hardly a mile long with no trees or shade to speak of and covered in tussy grass, rocky shores, penguin and shearwater burrows that make it hard to walk anywhere without spraining an ankle. That said, the weather, the solitude, and the views are incredible. Catching seals and giving them haircuts, once again, was really hard work and a pain, but I seem to have the hang of it, finally. Well… except that I got bitten again (on the arm this time), but one bite is admirable considering how many seals I was handling in a day. I got bitten by a penguin as well (I got to hold a penguin!), but through a glove. She was about the size of a Nerf football, so not quite as much trouble as trying to hang on to a condor.

Seal bite.
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Penguin!
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I also learned how to take blood (awesome!) and spent the evening helping our zoo vet centrifuge and process samples. I hadn’t really expected to be using my lab skills anytime soon, especially not sitting outside my tent on an island, using a headlamp for light while thousands of seabirds filled the night sky.

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I really dig camp life, despite the lack of running water, birds making a racket all night, etc. After a day of seal work I think I could sleep through (and on) anything anyway, I’ve never been so exhausted in my life. We have a gas-powered fridge, so we eat pretty well, and thus far everyone’s been really fun and easy to get along with.

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I’ve discovered I have an odd talent for calling seal pups. The eight of us seal-catchers were taking a break, and I managed to get an aussie pup’s attention from thirty meters off, and by mimicking his calls, get him to shuffle over within arm’s reach before the wind changed and he figured out I wasn’t a seal and ran off. These are shy seals, it’s not easy to get them to just waltz up to eight people. Just before we left, two people in our group found a New Zealand fur seal pup hiding in a rock crevice and were talking to it and taking pictures. I sat down, called to it, and within two minutes it was out from under the rock, nuzzling my leg with whiskery seal kisses and nearly climbing into my lap.

I’d nearly forgotten how much I love seals. I think I picked the right place to be.
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Aussie slang of the week: manky (smelly/disgusting), mozzies (mosquitoes), daggy (dorky/without style)

Posted by JuliaInOz 22:52 Archived in Australia

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