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Chasing seals, tents, and aussie pin-cushions

overcast 22 °C

It's hard to believe that I've been here for nearly two months. I'm growing accustomed to Australia and am becoming much more settled instead of living life like a tourist. That said, it doesn't mean I'm not still constantly surprised, perplexed, and sometimes frustrated by the cultural and language differences. I was prepared for the language barrier in Ecuador, I wasn't expecting to have much trouble in an english-speaking country. My aussie friends like to tell me that I don't speak English, I speak American, and that being in Australia, I've got to learn to speak the language properly. When they're not taking the mickey out of me for being a Yank, or calling me 'Yankee Doodle' (as the housemate's boyfriend has recently nicknamed me) they're remarkably patient about translating things.

My new favorite food is kangaroo. Yes, I know they're cute, but they live a happy life in the wild, being healthy and free-range before coming to the supermarket and then my frying pan. They are much more environmentally sustainable than any of the non-native hooved livestock brought into Australia and pumped full of hormones, antibiotics, and preservatives, and well, 'roos are tasty. When I go back to the States I'm planning on giving up beef for bison as well.

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This last week I was back out on the island starting my research in earnest. I've adjusted very well to roughing it for a week at a time; a very good thing seeing as I may be spending closer to a month there gathering data. Basically I sneak around the edge of the seal colony, set up video cameras on a ledge overlooking the shore, call in the park rangers on their boat, and observe and record the seals' response. It's a bit intimidating that I'm actually doing my graduate research, but I'm enjoying it.

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I got to spend some more time out at night this trip, since we only had to catch 30 pups and I wasn't completely exhausted. This meant getting to see the penguins come out and run around and call to each other (entirely adorable), and bonding with the antechinus, rodent-like marsupials that love to steal food from camp and don't hesitate to run right over anyone sleeping in the main tent.

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I also had two antechinus take up residence beneath the floor of my tent, around three inches away from my sleeping roll. Very comical to watch a little lump scurry about under your tent, squeaking. Being unable to smell me, they had no idea I was there, so I could actually poke and pet them without them running away (and without getting bitten).

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Unfortunately, leaving the island didn't go quite as smoothly as last time. We got off early because a storm was brewing, and it was already pretty windy. I had to take down the tent by myself, and after very carefully unstaking and pulling off the rain fly so it wouldn't fly away, I stepped back only to watch the wind pull up the remaining stakes and blow my whole tent halfway across the island. I managed to catch up to it just before it was literally blown right off the island and into the ocean, thank goodness, and struggled to drag it back to camp against the wind where John, my advisor, chided, "Come on now, you're supposed to be taking the tent down, not taking it out for a walk."

We had a very rough and wet boat ride back in choppy seas, but I had said that I wanted a shower, so it served me right. All in all, the day wasn't going well, but just as we were leaving the park John spotted an echidna by the side of the road, and nothing puts me in a better mood than a new critter. Echidnas, along with platypuses, are the only extant egg-laying mammals in the world. They look quite a bit like giant hedgehogs, and as soon as you come near them they stick their head in the ground and put their spikes up, or roll into a ball for safety (which accounts for the bad picture). They eat insects and in general are very, very cute.

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All in all not a bad trip. I got to take quite a few blood samples, and was proud to have gotten pretty good at it by the end. Seals do have veins the size of garden hoses, but it's still not an easy skill to learn. When I got back to campus I discovered that I get to have lunch with the other Fulbright scholars and the Vice Chancellor (ie, president) of the university in April, and that my mom will be visiting over Easter and my birthday. I'm very excited to have her here and to see a bit more of Australia at the same time.

Aussie slang of the week: capsicum (bell pepper), bog (toilet), scarper (escape/run off)

Posted by JuliaInOz 05:24 Archived in Australia

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