Bitten By a Sea Lion

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The Galapagos Islands - when I had the opportunity, I jumped at it. I had always been a science nerd, so to sail from island to island with a naturalist guide even as close to a Darwinian experience as I could imagine.

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One day when we landed on Espanola Island and there were Galapagos Sea Lions sunning themselves everywhere. Some sea lions were having a bit more fun wrestling and playing in the water.

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It was a sight unlike any other, as our guide explained the safety information. Be careful when approaching the sea lions on land, they can be very territorial, but in the water they know they’re faster so they’re not afraid of you. If you get bitten, he explained, you’ll need a helicopter to take you to the closest island with a hospital because of the bacteria in a sea lion’s mouth.

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Ok, easy enough I figured, we’ll keep our distance from the sea lions as we walk down the beach and hop into the water.

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My brother and I head off into the turquoise waters with snorkels, slippers, and an underwater camera. One sea lion in the water was very interested in us, and curiously followed us around. As my brother twisted and turned through the water, so did the sea lion, mimicking his every move. It maneuvered so smoothly through the waters of this fascinating archipelago nibbling at my brother’s flippers while I followed behind, documenting this enthralling experience.

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As I followed them through them, the sea lion became more interested in me, as I wasn’t playing with it so much as documenting the moment. The sea lion swam over to me, looked me right in the eyes, and then bit my thigh, as to gesture “hey! come play with me!” It was clear that this bite wasn’t viscous, just a playful pup looking to have some fun and play with its new visitors.

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But panic quickly set it, for me anyway. My brother seemed much less concerned. All I could think about was the warning our guide had given us just half an hour earlier. I hadn’t approached the sea lion at all, it approached me because I wasn’t interacting with it. How could I have prevented this bite? Did I need to be taken off the island by a helicopter and treated at a hospital?

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What would happen to the rest of my trip? All this time I should have been exploring the Galapagos archipelago, what if I have to leave my trip early? I just got here! I tell my brother that I’m headed back to shore, to tell the guide what happened and have him look at my leg. My brother shrugs it off, and snorkels in the other direction, planning to meet me back on the beach later.

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As I swam back, I kept looking down at my leg. I could see the red teeth marks on my thigh easily through the crystal clear water. Was I bleeding? I didn’t see any blood, but my leg was underwater so it was hard to tell. As I headed back the 100 or so yards to shore I started to wonder, if I was bleeding… sea lions are shark food, and sharks can smell blood, and fear. I thought more about how many sharks infest these unique waters, and started to panic, which just led me to try to swim faster, squeezing my thigh, to hold in the bleeding if there was any. The more frantically I swam ashore, the more I knew I was attracting sharks with my quick movements and the mix of fear and blood in the water. It seemed like it would take forever to get back to shore swimming like that, so I decided to walk. The water was only about 4 feet deep so I scurried inland in my flippers, when it popped into my mind; I was at this beach yesterday, and these same sandy shallow waters were covered in sting rays, hidden in plain site along the sandy bottom of this very beach. I guess I should swim.

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I finally got to shore, and I chaotically explained to my guide what happened. I didn’t agitate the sea lion, it was playing with us, but it bit me! What do I do now? Unfazed, my guide assured me that I was fine. But I spent the rest of the day back on land, just to be sure.

FISH FOOT MASSAGE

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Walking along Pub Street in Siem Reap, Cambodia I saw this girl with her feet in this huge fish-tank, and I took the photo above. I asked her if it tickled, she said it did at first, but then you get used to it. The fish feed on your dead skin cells, cleaning it while they eat. It’s sort of like a pedicure, when they scrape your feet.

So a little later that night, I tried it. I had heard about it from friends, so I figured why not. I walked up to a place with a giant fish tank and asked how much it cost.

$2 GETS YOU A BEER &

30 MINUTES IN THE TANK

Seemed like a good deal to me. I can't remember the last time I laughed that hard. A few of us stuck our feet in and hysterics ensued for the first 5 or 10 minutes, but eventually it stopped tickling and we began to watch the patterns of the fish. Big fish claiming territory on the best tasting feet and scaring away the smaller fish. It was a very cool experience, but one I'll remember next time I see tilapia on a menu.

AN UNBELIEVABLE ESCAPE

2 CHEETAHS, A LION, & A BABY GAZELLE

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I wouldn’t have believed this if I didn’t witness it with my own eyes. It was early morning in the Serengeti and a heard of Thomson’s Gazelle ran suddenly - they were being hunted. Then, one was caught, a baby gazelle.

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Our Tanzanian guide watched closely and began taking photos of his own. This wasn't a normal hunt he explained, because there were two cheetahs, and cheetahs are solitary cats. He pointed out that the gazelle had been caught, but the cheetah didn't kill it yet. The mother was teaching her cub how to hunt.

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As we all watched in amazement, the baby gazelle somehow overcame the shock of its situation, got up and tried to escape alive.Then the cheetah cub began to practice its hunting skills. We watched as the gazelle made a run for it but the cheetah cub's speed was no match. Again and again the baby gazelle would get up and run, and get swatted at and trampled by the cheetah cub.

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I stood in the jeep and photographed what seemed like the slowest death ever. Watching in amazement at a cheetah cub learn to hunt, while also witnessing a young gazelle's long fought battle for life, if not just for a few more moments.

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I was watching what I thought was the slowest death ever, and out of no where, a lion appeared.

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In hindsight looking at these photos, I realized that the cheetahs had noticed the lioness arriving much before I did, they were looking off in that direction moments before I realized what was going on. I was so distracted watching the cub hunt. But the lioness had heard the whimpering of the baby gazelle and was hungry. Food is scarce in July when most animals have left the Serengeti migrating to Kenya.

It was clear that the lion is king of the jungle, or in this case, queen of the jungle. Two cheetahs already had the gazelle, but they wouldn’t keep it with a lion approaching.

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The lion ran towards the cheetah cub & baby gazelle. As soon as the cheetah cub was distracted by the large lioness, the gazelle tried its escape plan one more time. This time it worked.

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Imagine that. Two cheetahs, a lion, and a baby gazelle, and the baby gazelle lives. It was the most incredible moment of nature I’ve ever seen. I never expected to see all three cats go home hungry.

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