Nobody Keeps Baby in the Corner

My little friend from a few weeks ago escaped from her yard and found me again yesterday, but this time wearing a collar complete with name and phone number. So everyone, you may now officially meet Lilly, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

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She wants you to throw the stick. She wants anyone to throw the stick. I’ve never had a dog that enjoyed making “fetch” happen this much before (did you remember that yesterday was October Third, official international Mean Girls Day?), and though we had to go over a few ground rules (no diving for the stick while I’m picking it up, no snatching it out of my hand, no jumping up to lick my face when she brought it back) we had a rollicking good time.

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Staffies, as they’re referred to in this neighborhood (which seems to host a fair number of them, actually) are supposed to be both fearless and affectionate, which describes her pretty well. As she’s been visiting a house of biologists she’s been well observed, traits mentally catalogued, body condition assessed, behavior analyzed. It’s basically unavoidable habit at this point: we can’t help but notice the shape of her head (triangular, similar to carnivorous seals and supported by a strong neck, likely advantageous for vigorous shaking of prey), her short but muscled legs (well-adapted for lunging), and her very short fur, ideal for warm climates and not getting tangled in things. She’s a tough-looking little pup- if she weren’t always trying to lick my face or curl up in my lap, I guess I might think she was intimidating?

Apparently the breed was intended originally for bull baiting, in the days of “blood sport,” and have recently received a fair bit of bad press for similarity to pit bulls and other related terriers here in Australia (New South Wales, in particular). I suppose these sorts of things should make me warier than I am, but Lilly hasn’t shown even a twitch of aggression while I’ve been in her presence. The other characteristics this breed is known for are loyalty and rapid progress of affection, both of which I think it’s safe to say I’ve found.

I’m still not sure how I feel about intensive dog breeding. Inbreeding is a huge issue, and creating dogs for looks rather than health seems both dangerous and cruel. As a biologist I clearly have lots of thoughts about natural selection, but the purposeful selection of companion animals by humans makes me uncomfortable… Essentially what we’ve done to dogs is arrest their mental development. They act like wolf pups, lower in aggression, higher in loyalty and affection, shorter puppy-like faces and sweeter temperaments. On top of those traits, we continue to select and mate dogs for characteristics that can be detrimental to the dogs themselves- large heads, long bodies and vulnerable backs, size that cuts their life spans down by years… I love them all- ask any of my housemates, any of the Costa Rica 2013 crew, anyone in my family. But I still can’t imagine getting a pup anywhere but from a shelter or another person’s home.

Which is not to say that I will be stealing Lilly and being her best friend forever.

I probably won’t.

But I’d like to.

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Adopted

Today was another photo-sorting day- with the wind still high and a lot of data yet to be processed, we camped out on the couches and filtered photos from various sightings into identifiable and non-identifiable categories, then started to draw and match the individuals to the photos. You’d think there would be photo-ID software that could match fins for us, but with this much data on the line and no access to CIA-style facial recognition software (pick out the secret spy from the crowd at the airport using nothing but a few keystrokes and a paperclip!), it’s more accurate to just do it this way. Or so I’m told… Anyways, Kaja and I will soon know the catalogue quite well, and have already begun to recognize many of the more distinctive fins. I’m prioritizing memory space for the identifiable Sousa sahulensis (Australian humpback dolphins), since they’re our main study organism, but several Tursiops aduncus (Spotted bottlenose dolphins) are easy to spot from a hundred meters (hooray, metric system!) away. “There’s Hook!” we’ll yell on the boat. “There’s Steps again, and her juv!”

I wonder if they begin to recognize us, or our boats. They don’t seem that interested, and we don’t seem that easily distinguishable from the water. Humans are weird.

 

Anyways, since it was a day off-water I took off at 5 for the bush, camera in hand and water bottle in my Dr. Seuss backpack. Along the way I was met by a little friend I’d seen wandering about a few days earlier:

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She’s a little dog, and I’ve seen her dwarfed by cars and bikes alike as she trots along behind various passers-by on the street. I didn’t know what she was looking for, besides adventure and I guess a random American to adopt. I whistled to her, and she came running over, tail tucked between her legs and head low. I know, stray dogs can be a risk and I had no guarantee she was friendly, but she looked so nervous. I sat down on the sidewalk and offered her my hand, which she took as a sign to drop the scaredy-dog act and leap into my lap. Little dogs with a lot of personality often can’t contain their feelings inside of their bodies, I’ve learned, and it was no different for her; she spun in circles, sat down, rolled over, leapt up, sat down again, ran around me twice, and then set about washing my face as thoroughly as she possibly could. I named her Baby, and we set off for our bush walk together.

Baby liked going for a walk, but got very nervous when I left the path. Sniffing around in the bush for a few seconds, she wandered back onto the clear dirt and waited for me there. I, however, needed to take a photo of a rotting automobile carcass in the shrubbery (for you, Ryan dear):

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Anyways, with darkness falling she led me back out of the bush, stopping to wait when I fell behind (classic Agent Red Squirrel, watching ants move a dead grasshopper or taking photos of little birdie footprints in the red dirt). I worried about her so close to the street as we left the footpaths, but she listened when I called and followed close to me all the way back to Casa de Sousa, where we had a good scratch and I wondered how to find her home, if indeed she had one. She was a bit too well-fed and trained to be a stray, but she didn’t have a collar nor, it seemed, any inclination to leave what was promising to be a very satisfying rub-down, even with darkness falling. Happily, a jeep passing by came to a sudden stop in front of us, and she wagged happily over to the opening door.

“There you are!” the driver said, stepping out. “Been looking for you. She jumped the fence,” he told me a bit sheepishly. I told him I was glad she’d found her people.

“Cheers for that, mate!” he waved as they headed home.

Thanks for the lovely walk, little friend!

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Good Morning, Whales!

This morning I woke leisurely, confident that the fog and the threatened rain would leave us on shore. That didn’t keep the whales from making another appearance, however- right off the deck of the Center we could see and hear a number of killer whales headed north along the shore. Dave, this incredible guy who works at the center, captains the tiny boat (the Orca) that we photograph from, and knows every single whale in this population by sight and by relation to its fellows (along with their life histories and general attitudes) marked which whales we were seeing. I’m still working on photo-ID’ing just a few of my favorite (and most easily-discernible) whales… I can’t imagine knowing them as well as he does. It’s like they’re all old friends to him, J2 an ancient matriarch who avoids the camera and K25 a young one he’s watched grow up into a “funny-looking little guy” with a smallish dorsal for a male. K20, his big sister, presumably “sucked all the growth” out of their mother, K13, because she’s as robust as any whale he’s seen. They take on so much more life and character when seen through his eyes- I’m still trying to get past the strange combination of awe and incomprehension that are always present when I see these massive animals break the surface of the water. 

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I’m sure these kayakers didn’t MEAN to get so close… after all, they were putting themselves directly in the paths of not only endangered animals, but apex predators on the hunt. Who would possibly do that on purpose? Oh yeah. Maybe the girl running along the shore with camera, dog, socks, and sandals, oversized flannel shirt flapping in the breeze. Regardless, it was inspiring seeing them in so close to shore and so calm, fins breaking the surface and blowholes hissing out clouds that mingled with the incredibly dense fog.

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It wasn’t long before the whale watch boats found us (well they weren’t really looking for me, just the whales…) but Marron and I didn’t mind too much when the whales and boats all moved off faster than we could follow. We were having a good shoreline wander. I took too many photos of jellyfish and liked them all, so they’ll be showing up probably in future posts. Here’s one of my favorites: 

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It’s a Lion’s Mane jelly, I think- star of a Sherlock Holmes mystery and one of the biggest (if not the biggest by length) animals on the planet at full size. In cold waters, they can loose tentacles 120 feet in length. I tried to keep Marron from swimming with them and met with mild success… and mild failure. Luckily, it didn’t appear that she got stung.

She’s a good beach walk buddy, though I worry that I’m letting her get too wet. She doesn’t appear to mind:

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Tomorrow’s hopefully going to be nice and clear, sunny and whale-ful. We need to photograph more of K pod, especially their males because they’re likely to be first and most impacted by food shortages. Stay posted- the next few days are likely to be busy and fruitful as the weather turns back toward summer.