Ending, Starting, and Stars

Whew. My graduate class in fundraising just ended. It was an eight week course (with luckily one textbook, not four like the previous class) that felt like it lasted forever.

But now, now comes starting my fifth season with the Park. Since I used most of my hours over the winter, I have to miss the first week of training with all the new folks. I get to make up what I missed by conducting a short training session on Monday, and two on Wednesday! DOH!

I have managed to sneak in some recreation in the last couple of weeks. I conducted a star talk/full moon hike, found some lovely flowers, and climbed a rock, making my atrophied upper body ache the next day. See photos.


Looking south. Orion’s Belt is above the light on the right. Look for three evenly spaced stars.

Even on a nearly full moon night, constellations are hard to find!

Even on a nearly full moon night, constellations are hard to find! How did the constellation-makers do it when ALL the stars are visible??

Calochortus elegans?

Calochortus elegans?


Arnica sp?


Lupinus albifrons




Hey! That's an elephant seal molting. At Trinidad State Beach

Hey! That’s an elephant seal molting. At Trinidad State Beach

View off Strawberry Rock, looking towards McKinleyville, Arcata, Eureka

View off Strawberry Rock, looking towards Trinidad Head (big mound right of center), McKinleyville, Arcata, Eureka

The Lonely Stars

Seeing as I haven’t blogged since January, it seems prime time to write something. This is the first weekend since that last post in which I didn’t feel buried by projects and class. It’s kinda tough finding precisely where to draw that “line in the sand” between personal time and work time when it’s all at home. Especially when you have a really driven husband who says “You just keep working ’til you’re done. That’s when you can stop.”  Gee…thanks! ;)

Anyway, enough about me. There are sea stars feeling LONELY out therein the Pacific!

High and Dry

High and Dry

Joking aside, they are indeed sparsely dispersed. Yesterday, I saw around 7. None of which were touching a neighbor. They were all separated by tens of feet. Maybe they are now avoiding contact with each other for fear of spreading cooties. (Can’t you tell I’ve been inside way too much?! We now return you to your regularly scheduled seriousness. Because, this is actually serious.)

The ochre sea stars (Pisaster ochraceus) are suffering from what has been labeled Sea Star Wasting Syndrome. ‘Syndrome’ because for a long time, scientists couldn’t figure out what was causing the disintegration of living sea stars. For some gruesome photos of the chronology of symptoms, click over to the University of California, Santa Cruz’s page.

Just last summer, they pinned down a likely culprit, a densovirus in the large Parvoviridae family, that has been present since 1942. Now, the elusive details are the variables that allow this virus to run rampant through various sea star and sea urchin populations.

While it’s tempting to shrug and say they are just sea stars, just like us, they are keystone species. They are capable of influencing the population sizes of other animals, of who lives where. Mussels serve as their primary prey. Keeping those numbers in check, other, more squishy-bodied animals, like the colonial anemones present in both the below photos, can have a chance at clinging to prime rocky real estate.

Sea Stars with their Mussel Prey

Ochre Sea Stars with their Mussel Prey

Ochre Stars between Mussels and Anemones

Ochre Stars between Mussels and Anemones

While scientists know the population crash is going to have rippling effects, what is unknown is what’s in store for the future. What else will ride in on the tides of change? Here’s likely a sneak peak of things to come: warm water this winter brought us these wandering beauties.

Lonely Sea Star 1

Lonely Sea Star 1

Lonely Sea Star 2

Lonely Sea Star 2