My Next Adventure: Zeehondencentrum Pieterburen

Next week I am off to the Netherlands to spend 14 weeks as a seal care volunteer at Zeehondencentrum Pieterburen, a large and renowned seal rescue and rehabilitation centre.

This was an opportunity I secured this summer, although I first saw it advertised last year. I found it through WiseOceans. After sending an email enquiry I was given application forms and then a Skype interview, a fairly laid back talk through my CV. A few days afterwards I was offered a place.

Zeehondencentrum Pieterburen deal with injured and ill seals, and winter is a busy time with ‘patients’ coming in with lungworm. There are also pup separations in storms, and animals that are entangled in nets and other debris. No seals are kept in the centre permanently – they are all there to be rehabilitated and released. It has a really positive reputation and so I’m cautiously optimistic about the next few months.

I always want to be open on this blog about how much opportunities cost, because there is a real problem that those who don’t have financial support are failing to get into conservation due to unpaid and paid-for volunteering that seems to be required.

Bed and board (including wifi!) at Zeehondencentrum Pieterburen is €100/week for volunteers. I have had extreme doubts about paying to volunteer again as a graduate, but there are a few reasons I decided this was worth it.

Firstly, the Netherlands isn’t a cheap country and so €100 per week for bed and board didn’t sound ridiculous to me. Secondly, I applied to a similar role at the Gweek seal sanctuary in Cornwall. This role didn’t cost anything, but also didn’t provide bed and board. When I started looking into the costs of rent/living/possibly transport in Cornwall for a few months it added up to significantly more.

Finally, as I’ve mentioned before, working with marine mammals is something of a dream for me and seals are quite simply the greatest. Having looked into this centre, it really seems like I’ll get a lot of amazing experience and new skills. So this particular opportunity was worth more to me than others.

According to the documents I’ve been sent, my tasks will include:

  • Preparation of dietary requirements
  • Assisting nurses with feeding
  • Medical tasks: taking temperature, wound cleaning, assisting taking blood
  • Weighing or moving seals, including checking and recording data
  • Cleaning to strict hygiene standards in and around the patient areas
  • Assisting the pick up of new patients
  • Assisting in the visitor’s centre: giving informative talks
  • Admin duties – assisting other departments when needed
  • Observational work (depending on ongoing projects)

Intense! I don’t really have any proper husbandry experience, but it sounds like that is all going to change. As well as just being cool, I hope that this will be a strong addition to my CV. I should also get to go on at least one seal release in my time there. I already imagine it will be a highlight – it must be an incredibly rewarding moment.

From the 3rd of December onwards I’ll be blogging from Pieterburen, and I’ll let you know if it lives up to expectations. Watch this space for cute seal pics and probably some rants about litter and entanglement.

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