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

Things That Fall Apart

Comet ISON.

A first-time visitor to our solar system and our star, the Sun, tried to melt ISON. I guess you can do whatever you want if you have that much gravity, but I was really looking forward to some good comet photos. Guess I’ll have to settle with the rough one I took one morning when ISON was making its appearance around dawn.

See the little green blip on the upper right? Yea…

The scientific community is still unsure of what happened to ISON. Something came around the other side of the Sun, but it isn’t a whole comet. As the common saying goes, a comet is in many ways like a cat. Maybe ISON will use up one of its nine lives?





Celestial-shaped marine dwellers are another type of thing falling apart around here.

Sea stars along the Pacific coast, from areas in Alaska to California, are showing signs of deterioration. Such signs come in the form of lesions, deflation, loss of arms, and total disintegration.  That’s right, they just fall apart. While ALIVE. This wasting syndrome has happened before and wiped out whole populations that took years to return.

If you can’t find it in your heart to sympathize with a creature whose mouth and anus are essentially the same hole, then at least you could find it concerning that the ochre sea star, one of almost a dozen species affected, is a keystone species, or one that many other species rely on to influence what happens in a specific ecological community. Around here, without a sea star or two [or twenty] in a tide pool, mussels will take over, pushing out barnacles and snails and limpets and the like, altering what the rocky shoreline normally hosts.

The University of California Santa Cruz is monitoring the populations to see if it becomes an outbreak, but all signs point to a gloomy outlook: reports from both coasts and even some around the globe are coming in. For more information, see UCSC’s site and if you happen to be along a beach with possibly sick sea stars, report it here [either on the map or in fancy, citizen science form.]