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[LBI 2012] A day at the museum

October 25, 2012

[This is the eleventh in a series of posts – essentially diary entries – on fieldwork on Little Barrier Island, New Zealand. Internet access was unavailable on the island, so I am publishing them one-per-day now that I am back on the mainland.]


The predicted bad weather was forthcoming, so today was a second day off. A luxuriant sleep-in, a cooked breakfast, some of Katie’s sultana biscuits, &c. I read ‘Earthworms in New Zealand’, which was on the bunkhouse bookshelf. I was rather hoping to find information on the large native earthworms that occasionally make gurgling sounds around the island, but the book only dealt with introduced European earthworms and their use in soil improvement, with occasional plugs for alternative agriculture as a philosophy.

After lunch, we paid a visit to the ranger’s house. We’d heard of his son’s ‘museum’ and were keen to investigate. He was all of seven or eight years old, and had spent the morning (I gather) digging something associated with his ‘pirate ship’, so was covered in mud. As a condition of entering the house, his mother made him take off all his muddy outer clothes.

The museum itself held many interesting specimens, mainly biological, some archaeological, all found on Little Barrier. The ranger’s son was very familiar with them all, and had clearly absorbed a lot of science about them. Being talked to in full bio-jargon with slatherings of Latin by an eight-year-old in his underwear is rather a surreal experience. Among the specimens were skulls of many avian species, corals, worked obsidian (imported to Little Barrier from Mayor Island by the Maori), rare shells, various plants chewed by kakapo, and a whole shelf of kauri gum. We left the two Cook’s Petrel skeletons from D line there.

The afternoon was largely given to the beginning of ‘Yesterdays in Maoriland‘ by Andreas Reischek, an old museum collector of the same vintage as von Haast and Sir Walter Buller, until an eruption of Philosophy. I did my best to defend the Enlightenment and the idea of the Universe as a puzzle that is solvable, even if we don’t yet have all the tools. The discussion drew a crowd, and I ended up excitedly trying to explain meme theory. The attempt may have worked at least once.


From → Scientist

  1. nannus permalink

    Hi, is that the Island on which there are still some Kakapos? I have seen them on TV and found them extremely likable.

  2. There are some Kakapo there, but only very small numbers. Eight were translocated there from Codfish Island and Anchor Island in early 2012. Some of those had previously been on Little Barrier between 1982 and 1999, when it was determined that kakapo couldn’t raise chicks there in the presence of rats. Rats have since been eliminated, so we’re trying again.

    There was a team tracking them while I was there, but sadly they were all at very high altitude, and I didn’t get to see any.

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