Local Naturalist Unable to Find a Single Starfish in Pacifica

With the recent news that starfish are suddenly dying off from something called Sea Star Wasting Syndrome, Pacifica naturalist Paul Donahue decided to see if the local Ochre Sea Stars have been impacted by this mysterious illness.

"Ochre Sea Star is the species of starfish that used to be common in the rocky intertidal zone around Pacifica," writes Donahue in an email to the Pacifica Beach Coalition community. "Despite their English name, they come in a range of colors  - ochre, lavender, orange, brick red.

"In the vertical stratification of intertidal invertebrates along the rocky shore, these sea stars are normally found in the zone just below the band of California Mussels. As the sea stars prey heavily on the mussels, their vertical distribution more or less defines the lower limit of the band of mussels. Ochre Sea Stars used to be so common that at this time of year several wintering Glaucous-winged Gulls specialized on them, spending most of their day seeking them out and then trying to swallow them."

However, on a recent visit to the rocky shore of Rockaway Headland during low tide, Donahue noticed something different. Rocks that used to be crowded with Ochre Sea Stars along the lower edge of the band of California Mussels were empty. There were no starfish to be found. 

"I checked many large rocks that I know used to be covered with dozens and dozens of these starfish," he writes, "but despite searching along a couple of hundred meters of shoreline, I was unable to find a single sea star."

Donahue writes that the mysterious starfish die-off has hit many areas along the West Coast of North America, from Alaska to southern California, killing Ochre Sea Stars as well as other species.

"The die-off is caused by something called Sea Star Wasting Syndrome ... but the pathogen causing this wasting and die-off is still unknown."

Have you noticed there are less starfish on the shores of Pacifica? 
Amelia Amy Rose January 14, 2014 at 02:41 AM
Well, I didn't see any starfish on the Mussel Rocks around thousands of mussels during the recent low tides. I only saw one at Fitzgerald Reserve, and the ranger was talking about the starfish syndrome.
Patti Wylie January 14, 2014 at 03:23 PM
Yes, on 30Dec while my nephews were visiting for the Holidays we went to Fitzgerald reserve during negative tide. My brother and I wanted them to experience what we experienced as children that we remember so fondly to this day. Part of it was the star fish of many varieties. I searched and searched and found only one lonely orange variety in one tide pool. Wonder if it was the same one that Amelia is talking about. Was devastating, and I told my great nephews I was so sorry, they are gone. So many things I remember as a youth, now gone. I'm now 66 years old, what will be left in the next 60 years for future generations?
patricia Nelson January 14, 2014 at 03:49 PM
It depends on the time of the year...I've observed proliferation of Star Fish in the Spring and Summer...Not so much as it gets cooler..I've lived here for 40 years and noticed this difference year after year over the decades...They are not disappearing...It's not a syndrome either. ..Just the nature of Star Fish as in other sea life. Just because they are not visible in close proximity to the shore, does not automatically determine that there are no more star fish in Pacifica.
Claudia Vilagi January 14, 2014 at 08:39 PM
I have definitely noticed fewer sea stars in the past year, but always manage to find a few on Linda Mar beach's intertidal zone.
patricia Nelson January 14, 2014 at 09:02 PM
There are always seasons where there more or less sea life. i.e. good crab and not so good crab seasons. Drawing conclusions that all is lost for the Star fish is simply a over statement.
Dee January 14, 2014 at 09:56 PM
I had no idea. Thanks for letting us know about this international issue that's on our shores as well. So sad. Fortunate for our community to have someone like Paul Donahue to point this out to us though.
patricia Nelson January 14, 2014 at 10:50 PM
Really International issue....So dramatic...Do your own research on this...
Dee January 14, 2014 at 11:39 PM
Well, I have done some research and this sea star wasting disease is just not happening in California. I would consider Canada and Mexico to be international ... the disease is affecting the sea star population as far north as Canada and as far south as Mexico... There are also isolated accounts on the Atlantic of Canada and US seaboard as well.
julie walters January 15, 2014 at 01:04 AM
I am a Naturalist at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve and this is a major concern. Researchers at the University of California Santa Cruz and the California Academy of Sciences are researching the disappearance of seastars. It is occurring up and down the coast and was first observed in Vancouver. I recently found only 4 seastars at the north end of Esplande Beach after an hour of searching at a good low tide. If you find any, please photograph them and upload them to iNaturalist.org which is a website being used to track the population. The project is called "Pisaster Disaster".


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