ZP Week Four: Hand Feeding , Holding and Houdini

I’ve had a really amazing week here and feel like I’ve progressed a lot. In myself I can feel I’m more confident with the work and comfortable around the seals. I’ve also been trusted with a larger range of tasks and responsibilities (hmm, could it be connected I wonder…).

Week four got off to a great start when I was taught to hand-feed! (Cementing Emmy’s place as one of my favourite feeders, she has made sure to take me back to Icy in Jarino 5 every time she feeds so I can practice.) Icy is a sweet little seal who is very interested in fish, but so far has not been self-eating. Let’s hope she doesn’t get too lazy!

Hand feeding is an interesting one – academically speaking I know it’s bad. We do it here instead of force-feeding where possible, to minimise the number of times the seal has to be caught and therefore the stress.

However it means they associate humans with food and waiting to be hand fed may start to seem like an easier option. We try to move straight from tube feeding to self eating, but it often doesn’t happen. The force/hand feeding stages should be kept as short as possible. All that said, it is unbelievably cute. Even afterwards with blood all down her chin, she just looks like the sweetest little psychopath imaginable.

I don’t know if a memo goes out like “by the way, Hayley can hand-feed now” or if at 3-4 weeks that’s just assumed, but I’ve also gotten to hand feed with other nurses and seals over the week.

The third day of my working week, Monday, was Christmas, which I wrote about at some length. Highlights included Snapchat filters and a necropsy.

Icy is a poser

On the morning of boxing day I had a lie in and was just sorting out breakfast at about half 10 when Lisa came running into the Campus asking if anyone could go pick up a seal. You’ve got to jump on things quickly here, so I volunteered and she told me to be ready in 5 minutes. I threw on some clothes, had half a cup of coffee and was off.

Due to a holiday personnel shortage, I was picking up the seal with a girl from the visitor centre (Sharon?) who had only been on one pick-up before, with Arnout (the head of the seal rescue team). We drove to Lauwersoog, where the seal was being brought over by ferry from one of the islands. It was quite stressful rushing around the harbour trying to find the right place, but eventually we found the ferry and picked up the seal. As we carried the basket off the boat and into the car park, the bottom of it broke and the seal fell out.

He was off to the races, as fast as I’ve ever seen one move. Sharon chased him, taking off her jacket to throw over his head as we didn’t have a towel. I followed with the basket, shouting (because it was very windy) that we had to get his head in first, and we managed, thankfully, to put him back in. She then drove over the van and we lifted him in, while having to hold the bottom of the basket on. I felt horrible for this poor seal who must have been so stressed! On the journey back, we named him Houdini.

I’m so sorry! (something I whispered to him many times)

When we arrived back at the centre, Lisa and I put him in a better basket in the back of the van (a bit of an operation), and then carried him to the intake room. And then I was able to go eat!

After a more exciting than anticipated morning, I started my late shift at 2pm. We had to move 4 seals from quarantines to a Fase 2 pool. Mark had me sit on and hold the seals while he microchipped them. He did the catching part for me, but then showed me how to hold the back of the head under the towel and keep them steady with my legs. Then it was off to Kleine Badjes, with lots of visitors getting to watch their big move outside!

We rushed around doing some more feedings, zero cleaning the empty quarantines and prepping for the late feed. Mark is a force of nature, a man who works with speed and organisation, but also the weary patience of someone who has long ago accepted the rest of the world can’t match his efficiency. (The exception is his wife, Manon. When they work together it’s hard to find a job they haven’t already done. If they had children everyone else in the Netherlands could retire.)

In the evening there were intakes of two grey seal pups, one missing an eye. He was taken to Vliehors so he can be kept separate, while the other went to Bi-Bu with the rest of the pups. But when they picked up the basket to take him… the bottom broke. Seriously. I had turned around and suddenly there was a little white fluff ball behind me. Mark caught him with a towel, declined the offer of someone fetching another basket, picked him up like a baby and carried him to Bi-Bu. What a hero.

Because Mark and Manon were working, I finished my late shift at 9.15pm instead of 11pm.

Today I got the relaxed morning I intended on yesterday, before another late shift with Mark. Everything went pretty smoothly. (Finished just after 9 because… have I mentioned Mark?)

I got to go see the grey seals. The original  four pups in Bi-Bu are moulting and getting all patchy. One is now even able to swim! The new arrival seems to be settling in well. Over in Vliehors my baby Joline is getting nice and big (the good kind of fat) and is now allowed to swim a bit. She still has a funny bald square on her back – how long does seal fur take to grow I wonder? I was also able to take a closer look at poor Androu’s eye.

Me: Is it actually completely missing?
Mark: I think there might be some chunks still in there.

I suppose I asked…

Two grey seals and two common seals arrived – it’s getting busy!

Vicky told me that I’m going to go on a release on Saturday, so that ought to be really good fun.

Now I get to chill for a couple of days, much needed. Tomorrow I have arranged to tag along with one of the research assistants to record the grey seal vocalisations in Bi-Bu. I’m interested to know a little more about their research (I wonder how it compared to recording dwarf mongooses?) and hopefully to take my camera and get some better pictures of the pups.

More fish for Tommy?



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