Sunday, November 19, 2006

the Pacific Project

Today's West magazine, part of the L.A. Times, included "Live Ammo," an article about the U.S. government's research into biological warfare during the 1960s in the Pacific Ocean.

One photo caption puts it succinctly:
In the '60s, the Smithsonian sent biologists to islands in the central Pacific to study the migration patterns of seabirds. The government used their findings to determine whether the birds would carry diseases from one region to another.
Amid the discussion of germ warfare, chemical testing on sailors and the vets' continuing struggle for medical care, the article included glimpses into the Smithsonian biologists' experiences.

For young biologists in particular, living for weeks at a time in immense bird colonies was a dream come true. Part of their work was to count and mark the seabirds. More than 2 million were banded with numbered aluminum markers, and some were tagged with colored plastic streamers. (The best bander, Roger B. Clapp, held the record for marking the most birds in a single night: 565 masked boobies.)

One biologist waxed poetic about the banding experience.
As I was marking birds with bands,
I knew there was nothing in my hands,
No leg, no wing, no bird indeed.
Of bands and pliers I was in need.
My allergies to feathers is at rest,
Now that I'm banding at my best.

And here's the existential "Ode to a Mess" by another biologist:
Shit gets in your eye
On your thigh
Why oh why
Am I a bird bander?
LOL! No doubt many other biologists have wondered the same thing.

This is the first I've heard of the Pacific Project. Were you aware of it?


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