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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

On smooth gray seas

Scripps's Murrelet (Synthliboramphus scrippsi, formerly a subspecies of Xantus's Murrelet), photographed in Monterey Bay on 22 August 2014.

Scripps's Murrelets breed on islands and offshore rocks from southern California to central Baja California, then disperse northward after the nesting season.

During the non-breeding season, the highest numbers are observed between Point Conception and Monterey Bay/Point Año Nuevo, and from about 20-100 km offshore.

Here's a slightly different angle of this handsome alcid:

Eric asked me if the name had anything to do with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO).  This was a bit of an etymological adventure.  First I had to find the paper in which the scrippsi subspecies of Xantus's Murrelet was originally described in 1939 to see if it mentioned how they came up with the name.  Here's what it said: 

"This bird and two others were secured while the authors were on a collecting trip on the yacht of the late Robert P. Scripps of San Diego. It seems fitting that we should name the new form in honor of this man who did so much to further interest in Pacific coast science..."

Okay, so was Robert P. Scripps the same person that the SIO is named after?  I did an Internet search for his name and came up with this story about a Robert P. Scripps who died in 2012 (see link below).  He was the grandson of E.W. Scripps who was the co-founder of the Institution.

But note that the article describing the scrippsi subspecies of Xantus's Murrelet published in 1939 said "the late" Robert P. Scripps.  So I think that this murrelet was named after E.W. Scripps's son, the father of the Robert P. Scripps highlighted in this recent story.  Whew!

Now that that's settled, I'm including two more pictures, just for fun.  I was drawn to the views of this small seabird on such smooth gray seas.

And how the murrelet would disappear below the surface with a flick of the wings:

P.S.  References used for facts above included (1) The Birds of North America account for Scripps's Murrelet by Drost and Lewis (1995) and (2) Green, J.E. and L.W. Arnold.  1939.  An unrecognized race of murrelet on the Pacific coast of North America.  Condor 41: 25-29.

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