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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 Half Moon Bay

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