Student Journal: summer dispatches from the field Offshore California: last stand of the endangered marbled murrelet
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Zodiac launched into the surf at night
The Zodiac heads to sea for an offshore night survey

The Dispatches: Zach Peery
A break in the bone-jarring action, scooping up some murrelets, and catching some waves at Año

AÑO NUEVO, CALIFORNIA — What a week! We have had uncharacteristically fantastic weather since Sunday. It's been warm and sunny, and yes, completely calm. No 30 mph winds forcing you to lean sideways as you walk. Fantastic conditions like this mean a couple of things.

Most importantly, we can actually get a lot of boating done. We conducted offshore Marbled Murrelet surveys both Monday and Tuesday mornings. A survey involves launching the Zodiac from the harbor at Half Moon Bay and cruising down the coast all the way to Santa Cruz. Because we follow a zigzag pattern, the transect ends up being about 100 kilometers long and can take about five hours! It is usually a pretty bone-jarring experience, but the fabulous weather has given us water as smooth as a lake, and we actually completed Monday's survey in record time — three and a half hours.

When conditions are as good as they have been this week, surveys can actually be quite enjoyable. Keeping an eye on breaking waves, scanning the horizon for murrelets, and maintaining a 25 mph speed along a set line is both thrilling and challenging. So far, we've conducted 11 surveys this year and need about five more to meet our objectives. Ultimately, our goal is to estimate the murrelet population size over a series of years. From that, we will determine if their population is declining.

The other nice thing about this terrific stretch of weather is that we have been able to go out and catch murrelets. Tuesday night, we launched the Zodiac off of the beach at Año Nuevo at around 8 p.m. and caught birds until about 1 a.m. Although it was a little foggy, we were still able to net six birds. For crew member Jay McEntee, it was his first real night of scooping, and he did a stellar job. Landing the boat at 1 a.m. went very smoothly despite a decent-sized south swell — not a drop of water ever entered the boat.

Like I said, there was a decent south swell in the water, which means one thing and one thing only here at Año. SURF'S UP!!! Whenever a solid south swell hits the areas, surfers flock to the area from all over. There were probably 100 people out in the water yesterday evening as we launched the boat, dropping into world-class waves. I surfed for a couple of hours Tuesday morning after the survey, took a nap, surfed for a couple more hours, and then went back out in the boat to catch birds.

The waves were so good that I actually jumped back in the water this morning for a third session. So sunny, so warm, so glassy and perfect six-foot lefts rolling in one after another. Ahh ...

— Zach Peery

Surfs up
Zach Peery, board in arm, wading out to the break


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