The Unsolved Mystery of the Marbled Murrelet

Source: Hakai Magazine/Eric Wagner - January 11, 2018 in Adventure

The Unsolved Mystery of the Marbled Murrelet
Photo: Martin Raphael/US Forest Service/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

On the rolling seas two kilometers off the central Oregon coast, the early-morning doldrums shatter when the radio squawks to life: “We have a bird. We’re coming to you.”

It’s close to 3:00 a.m. aboard the RV Pacific Storm, a trawler from Oregon State University (OSU). In the equipment-crammed lab, four people slumped around a large table rouse themselves. A technician steps out to the rear deck, “They’re almost here,” he says. “I can see their lights.”

Kim Nelson, a wildlife biologist from OSU and one of the lead investigators, arranges instruments necessary to perform an onboard surgery: calipers, pliers, needles, thread, rulers, a small steel band. Then she leans back in her chair and closes her eyes. She has been on the water since 6:00 p.m., and has no qualms about getting a little more rest before the marbled murrelet comes aboard. As dictated by their permit, her team will have just under an hour to extract the little seabird’s story via measurements, blood samples, a leg band, and a radio tag. The minutes will be precious with the rare and secretive bird—one that, despite decades of intensive and expensive interventions, has so far seemed to resist all efforts to be saved.

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