Respect the penguins

Animals in Oamaru

Respect the penguinsThe occasion of Mom and Dad’s visit has led us to explore our town more. We finally went to the blue penguin experience which is the number one tourist attraction here. Each night the smallest penguins in the world come back to their nest boxes from a day of swimming as far as 25-50km out to sea to catch fish. They are highly encouraged to come back to a protected area that the local council has set up for them. Tourists pay to sit in bleachers, they shine a light that is not visible to the penguins and run a commentary as they come in around sunset in groups of 30-40. They gather just off shore to gain safety in numbers for the beach approach. Then they waddle past you and through a little fence to wooden nest boxes all throughout a grassy hill. With the people, bleachers, road, lights, fences, boxes and grass it doesn’t like very natural but you are able to observe them very close and it’s pretty fun seeing 150 penguins come in.

More to my liking we observed the yellow-eyed penguins at another beach nearby. There you are on a trail above the beach and there aren’t nearly as many. When we went at night there were a lot of people observing but no penguins, possibly because a group of three people were playing on and near the beach despite signs telling you not to do this. We stuck it out though and a little after dark were rewarded with seeing 5-6 of the penguins come in. The next time we went in the morning at daybreak to see them heading out to sea. Then we were almost the only ones there to observe them and it was very cool. My mom got some photos.

On the complete other end of the local animal spectrum we visited the largest employer in town on Monday, the local slaughterhouse, or meat processing plant. Many of Jean’s patients work there and she went to see what the different jobs require physically. I’ve never toured anything like that before and I don’t know if you’d be able to in the U.S. or not. They gave us a several hour long tour of almost the whole facility.

First we saw the lamb and sheep lines. There were three lines going when we were there, with room for a fourth. They process an unbelievable number of 10,500 sheep and lamb in a day. The lamb comes through a narrow chute and has only a brief chance to gaze around a bit dazed before a worker stuns the animal with an electric shock. The animal then has its throat cut by a Muslim worker who also says a silent prayer each time in accordance with halal meat processing. The intestines are clamped off to not contaminate the meat and it is hung up on hooks where it travels up a ramp for further processing while it bleeds out, also part of the halal process. The meat is shipped all over the world with the US being the biggest market, if you see ME 18 on your package of lamb it is from this plant.

The sheep is efficiently cut open and the skin is pulled off by a pair of robots, but most of the work is done by people, quite a few people, all with sharp knives. They rotate around on the line so one job doesn’t get too repetitive. The lamb is decapitated by a guillotine-type device, the head rolls in to a hole in the floor to become part of a blood and bone gardening mix. There were many such images in the plant, too many to really process at the time but they’ve come to me since I’ve visited there. I think it’s an experience any meat eater should have available.

The line for the cattle was very different, they only do about 250 of those a day, it is in much more cramped circumstances and the animals are so huge up close. There are large gleaming stainless steel wheel barrows where they collect the liver and intestines. Guys have to be on lifts next to the cow to go up and down while they get the skin off. One guy has a giant hacksaw suspended from the ceiling that he controls for one long cut to part the cow in half.

They use all parts of the animal there, the sheep stomachs for tripe, intestines for sausage casings, other parts for garden compost. I found the whole tour very interesting. It didn’t turn me in to a vegetarian but I can understand that perspective on things. The sheep don’t seem to “know” what’s happening and their death is pretty quick so overall it seemed a humane process but it is powerful to see such a structured and large scale killing facility. Not something you are likely to find listed on TripAdvisor anytime soon.

2 thoughts on “Animals in Oamaru

  1. kacy

    This has nothing to do with penguins, but…. Des and I saw a New Zealand dance company called Black Grace last night and I couldn’t help but think of you all….. Love you guys


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