Join me in the cold, dark, life-sustaining NE Pacific Ocean to discover the great beauty, mystery and fragility hidden there.

Posts from the ‘MARINE MEGAFAUNA’ category

 Zyzzyzus rubusidaeus

One of the services I like to provide here on The Marine Detective, is to share words you can try to randomly drop into conversations and annoy your friends. You’re welcome. It’s a task I take very seriously.

Yes, there really is an animal with the scientific name Zyzzyzus rubusidaeus and to me, they look like they have been designed by Dr. Seuss himself. Their common name is the Raspberry Hydroid and they have beautiful predators too.

Zyzzyzus rubusidaeus to 5 cm tall ©Jackie Hildering, The Marine Detective.


The common name for Zyzzyzus rubusidaeus is the Raspberry Hydroid. They were only described as a new species in 2013 by northern Vancouver Island’s own Anita Brinckmann-Voss who lived in Sointula. The research paper is at this link.

Their specific nudibranch prey are Pomegranate Aeolids. To my knowledge, the only documentations for both species, to date, are near Telegraph Cove (Weynton Pass) and Quadra Island (Discovery Passage). I can certainly attest to how fortunate we are to see them so predictably near Telegraph Cove.

What you see here, in addition to Raspberry Hydroids and a Pomegranate Aeolid nudibranch, are Mushroom Compound Tunicates, and a feeding Giant Acorn Barnacle.

See below for more information about both species. Oh, and if you ever are able to use the word “Zyzzyzus” in a word game because of this post, I expect a thank you! 😉

Descriptor for the above photo:

Trifecta!

(1) Nudibranch species the Pomegranate Aeolid (Cuthonella punicea to 2.5 cm).

(2)Their only known prey, the stinging celled animals Raspberry Hydroids (Zyzzyzus rubusidaeus to 5 cm tall).

(3) The nudibranchs’ egg masses / strings. As is the way with sea slugs, they most often lay their eggs on their prey. Talk about adding insult to injury. I eat you and I lay my eggs on you so there will be more of my kind to prey on your kind. 😉

More Pomegranate Aeolids feeding on Raspberry Hydroids. This is a female colony. The round structures are female gonophores which may contain embryos.

More about hydroids:

Almost all hydroid species are colonial. They are carnivores. Hydroids are related to jellies, anemones, and corals (phylum Cnidarian).

The reproduction of hydroids is remarkable. Colonies are male or female. They start by reproducing asexually by budding off hydromedusa – tiny free-swimming, jellyfish-like versions of themselves. These produce either eggs or sperm. Fertilization of the eggs leads to larvae that may settle on the ocean bottom and form colonies.

Hydroids catch drifting prey with their polyps aided by their nematocysts (stinging cells). None of the hydroid species off our coast deliver a sting that we humans can feel (no matter how sensitive you are 😉).

The food gets distributed throughout their single-sex colony.

And who loves to eat species of hydroids? Nudibranchs! Specifically, the aeolid kinds of nudibranchs – they have those bushy structures on their backs (cerata). Many of these nudibranch species not only rely on the hydroids for nutrition but also make use of their prey’s stinging cells! The nematocysts get incorporated into the ends of the cerata.



Sources:
Brinckmann-Voss, A., & Calder, D. R. 2013. Zyzzyzus rubusidaeus (Cnidaria, Hydrozoa, Tubulariidae), a new species of anthoathecate hydroid from the coast of British Columbia, Canada. Zootaxa 3666: 389-397

A Mystery from Poppy

Hello Dear Community,

I’ve saved my favourite 2022 marine mystery for you until now.

It’s from Poppy who was in British Columbia visiting from England with her father, sister Maya, grandpa and grandma.

Poppy found these on a beach on Malcolm Island and they were photographed on the back of a cell phone.

It actually hurt my head to try to figure this out. I knew that I SHOULD know what they were but just not make the ID take shape. In wanting to get the answer to Poppy as soon as possible, I reached out to expertise greater than my own. I suspected I would have a big face-palming moment of “but of course” when the shells were identified.

And indeed that happened.

Take a moment to try to determine the ID yourself? Then scroll down for the answer.


Are you sure you want to see the answer?

Here goes!

Of course! 🤦‍♀️ They are the parts of the shell of a barnacle that open and close!

The answer that came from naturalist supreme Bill Merilees was: “What you have here is a barnacle valve – one of the ‘flaps’ that opens to allow the feeding tentacles to strain food from the water column. Great photo of this unusual shell exoskeleton!


This led me to try to figure out what barnacle species these might come from and what the names of the structures were.

I believe the most specific ID is that these are the opercular plates of a Thatched Acorn Barnacle. The two parts are the tergum and scutum.

Below are some of my photos of another barnacle species, the Giant Acorn Barnacle (Balanus nubilus) which might help in recognizing the shells. Isn’t it wondrous? All barnacle species start off a plankton and then form their own intricate shells so that their foot can extend out to rake in food.

Happy New Year to you. May the next year be filled with happy mysteries, wonder, and empowerment for positive change.

Sources of illustrations:

Coletti, Giovanni & Bosio, Giulia & Collareta, Alberto & Buckeridge, John & Consani, Sirio & El Kateb, Akram. (2018). Palaeoenvironmental analysis of the Miocene barnacle facies: Case studies from Europe and South America. Geologica Carpathica. 69. 573-592. 10.1515/geoca-2018-0034. 

Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, Semibalanus cariosus – A thatched barnacle

Find The Fish – Volume Three!

There are now THREE Find the Fish books.

Here’s the cover of my latest book, now available at this link.

I loved that the online “The Marine Detective” community overwhelmingly chose this image for the cover showing a juvenile Yellowtail Rockfish hiding in the shell of a Red Urchin. The urchin may have lived to be more than 100 years old.

As many of you know from my weekly “Find the Fish Friday” posts, these are eye-spy challenges.

The books are the “Where’s Waldo” of the marine world. In addition to being fun, they are aimed and increasing knowledge about how diverse and colourful the life is in these cold, dark waters. The text provides information about the species in the images and invites children (and the adults who love them) to look for other species as well as the featured fish.

All photos and text are by yours truly with fish illustrations generously provided by Andy Lamb of Coastal Fishes of the Pacific Northwest. 

The trifecta! The books are soft-cover and answer pages are included showing the locations of the fish.  
The books are self-published as Marine Matters Publishing. 

It gives me much joy that this third book in particular allows the facets of my life to come together – diving, photography, whale research and teaching. I dare say Find the Fish – Volume Three is the only children’s book that gives insight into the diversity of life off our coast while ALSO providing empowering scientific content about Sea Star Wasting Syndrome and our Marine Education & Research Society research into a new Humpback Whale feeding strategy.

And hey, the featured wildlife includes a Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker, Wolf-Eels, Scalyhead Sculpins (of course) and three of my beloved dive buddies!

Please see the sample pages below. There are 12 challenges with answer pages, an introductory page and a final page about “The Marine Detective”.

To order or see more information about the books, please click here.  

Take a Stand for Giants – 15 minutes or less of your time

[To jump directly to providing your input into the public consultation survey, click here.
Below I provide background and my answers to the survey in case that is helpful to you.]

The first Fin Whale I ever saw was killed by a large vessel.
Please don’t stop reading.

There’s urgency about what will happen with the protection of Fin Whales in British Columbian waters. And, there is something Canadians can do to take a stand that takes very little time.

Right now, it is being put forward that the protection of Fin Whales be REDUCED under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.  This is being considered when so little is known about them and their threats are increasing.

– We whaled them up to 55 years ago and it is not known how many there are now or if there is more than one population.

It is known that their threats are increasing. Fin Whales are particularly vulnerable to being hit by boats. They feed where there will be increased large vessel traffic, including LNG tankers. This will also increase disturbance from noise. Further, the changing climate will impact their prey. There has also already been an “Unusual Mortality Event” where is it is believed that warmer water led to more toxins being in the whales’ prey (domoic acid from Red Tide Algae).

The process determining if the protection of Fin Whales will be reduced in Canada or not involves an opportunity for public comment. This is not a petition. It is using YOUR voice to be part of the federal process that will determine the fate of Fin Whales. The deadline for comment is December 2nd, 2022. It is a short survey.

I share the above graphic showing the fate of that first Fin Whale I saw because I think it helps make clear how the second biggest animal in the world can be so vulnerable. Nature versus human technology, efficiency, ingenuity and, disconnect.

The reality of that first Fin Whale I ever saw is known because he got hooked up on the bulbous bow of the cruise ship after being hit. Apparently, no one on the vessel felt the impact. The fate of the whale was only known when the cruise ship came into the harbour in Vancouver.

It must have been the same Fin Whale we saw that day near Telegraph Cove because Fin Whales are such a rarity on the inside of Vancouver Island. We first saw the Fin Whale, and then we saw the cruise ship. And yes, this is the Fin Whale whose skeleton with shattered vertebrae now hangs in the Whale Interpretive Centre in Telegraph Cove.

Standing under the skeleton of the first Fin Whale I ever saw. Photo by Phil Stone Photography.


It’s so important to understand that the evolution (or creation) of toothed whales like Orca, required them to have biosonar / echolocation to detect their prey, etc. Baleen whales like Fin Whales and Humpback Whales do not have this biosonar. So often these giants are oblivious of boats, and many boaters are oblivious to how different these whales are. 

You may never have seen a Fin Whale. In fact, the only one known to be in the Salish Sea this year was killed by a boat. I’ll spare you the photos of him but you can see more detail at this link.

Fin Whales are more often off the Central and North Coast, Haida Gwaii, or in BC’s vast offshore waters. In having the privilege of doing surveys in these areas, I’ve seen them, and the overlap with large vessel traffic.

If the protection of Fin Whales is reduced, one of the most dire consequences is that there will be no determination nor protection of their habitat needs. There will also be far less priority for research into how many there are and how to reduce threats.

So about that short survey to provide your input.


The questions in the survey are simple.
Below, I provide the three main questions and answers that may be of use to you.

For more detail, see this link for the media release we did as the Marine Education and Research Society and the North Coast Cetacean Society.


The survey for public consultation is at this link.

My answers are below.

You will note that the survey only allows for brief answers which is why I have pointed to our media release which provides detail about the concerns.

1. Do you think the reclassification of Fin Whale (Pacific Population) from Threatened to Special Concern under the Species at Risk Act would have economic, environmental, cultural and/or social BENEFITS for you or your group/organization?

No. There would be no benefits to reducing protection for a species for whom threats are increasing and for which too little is known to justify reducing protection.

2. Do you think the reclassification of Fin Whale (Pacific Population) from Threatened to Special Concern under the Species at Risk Act would have economic, environmental, cultural and/or social COSTS for you or your group/organization?

Yes. There are significant societal costs to choosing to reduce protection for a species for which not enough is known about their population while threats are known to be increasing. This includes that it is acknowledged how vulnerable Fin Whales are to being hit by boats; that it is not known how many there are; and that it is certain that there will be increased vessel traffic and that increasing temperatures can impact their prey.

3. Should the Government of Canada reclassify the Fin Whale (Pacific Population) from Threatened to Special Concern under the Species at Risk Act?

No.
It is the antithesis of precaution to reduce the protection of Fin Whales when there is so much that is not known about their population and when threats are increasing due to climate change, noise, and risk of collision.

As above, the limits on the length of answers in this survey (at only 500 characters for this question), did not allow for the appropriate opportunity to provide feedback. Therefore, reference this link for my concerns https://mersociety.wordpress.com/2022/11/03/protection-should-not-be-reduced-for-fin-whales.

4. Please provide any other comments about this reclassification consultation that you would like us to consider.

As above, it is not sufficient that the limits on the number of characters/words in this survey (at only ~500 characters / 80 words), did not allow for the appropriate opportunity to provide feedback on concerns. Thereby see the following link for my concerns https://mersociety.wordpress.com/2022/11/03/protection-should-not-be-reduced-for-fin-whales.

It’s not a show . . .

I wrote the following in my role with the Marine Education and Research Society to accompany the graphic below. Our efforts include workshops on Marine Mammal Regulations and the ethics of imagery and language used by mainstream and social media.

It is so jarring and unfortunate when wildlife encounters are described with language like “the whales put on a show for us”. No, they didn’t.

How I hope my words resound with you.

“It’s not a show.

Wildlife does not perform for humans.
Whales do not “put on a show” for us.

Words matter.
Words reflect, and perpetuate, our values and actions.

Thankfully, society has come a long way in understanding our connection to the natural world.

May our words reflect that we know the privilege of observing wild animals, living wild lives.

Not “for us”.
Not “up close and personal”.

Rather, may we value most that what we observe in the wild happens . . . as if we weren’t there.”


The graphic is available as a sticker or card at our MERS Ocean Store. The card includes the above text.
All sales support our research and education efforts.

Illustration made by friend Dawn Dudek based on a photo I took of Humpback Whale Inukshuk (BCZ0339) while conducting research for the Marine Education and Research Society (MERS) under Marine Mammal License MML-57.


Related posts:
Whale Watching – Not “Up-Close-and-Personal!” How to make a good choice?

To Think Before We Click



Found! Cryptic Nudibranch

I finally observed some of the most cryptic nudibranchs on our coast! 💙

The Cryptic Nudibranchs you see here are only about 1 cm long and look at how astoundingly evolved they are! They are virtually invisible on the Kelp-encrusting Bryozoan which is growing on Bull Kelp at this time of year. This species of nudibranch is also known as Steinberg’s corambe (Corambe stinbergae to 1.7 cm).

You can see in the photos here that we found some of the nudibranchs mating and there were many of their egg ribbons (each of those coils has a lot of eggs that result from both parents becoming inseminated and laying eggs).

You can also see where they have been feeding on the bryozoans (colonies of animals).

I have looked for them for years knowing their range is from Alaska to Baja California, Mexico.

Mating: Right-side-to-right-side attached via the gonophores. Both hermaphrodite parents lay eggs.

What made the difference in now being able to find them:

(1) Getting the clue from Robin Agarwal to look at the kelp fronds that were REALLY tattered with the Kelp-encrusting Bryozoan colonies .

(2) Having a skilled dive buddy willing to join me in burying our heads in old, tattered kelp in the surge for 30 minutes instead of looking at all the big, colourful life at this dive site. Thank you Janice Crook!

(3) Once we knew what the egg ribbons looked like (those s-shaped little masses), we had a really good clue and knew better where to look even more closely for the nudibranchs.

Now on to finding the SECOND really cryptic nudibranch species that feeds on Kelp Encrusting Bryozoans – Corambe pacifica to 1.5 cm long and whose egg masses are tiny, flat coils.

For more photos and my previous blog on what Kelp-encrusting Bryozoans look like, please see my other blog “Kelp Lace? Bryozoans”.


Photos: September 19, 2022, Browning Pass ©Jackie Hildering, The Marine Detective.

Happy dive buddies
– Janice Crook and yours truly.

Scuba Sisters

Here’s to the salty sisterhood of cold-water divers (and the men with whom we submerge). I am a week late with posting this for “Women’s Dive Day”. Yes, it’s been busy.

But, it’s still really important to me to put these photos into the world and reflect on how much this sisterhood means to me, and why. I have tears in my eyes as I type this, so apparently, the feelings run deep.

Scuba sister Jacqui Engel with Egg Yolk Jelly.

Why? Because you may have noticed that, by some, there is an increasing downward pressure on womxn in an attempt to limit the spaces in which we expand and the choices we WILL make. Because some want to hold on to the assumption of inherent privilege based on the absurd “criteria” of skin pigmentation; whether one’s chromosomes have one X or two; or gender identification. Because some fight equality to claim superiority.

I now have some pretty good expletives in my head which I will not type here.

Scuba sister Natasha Dickinson and Sunflower Star. We documented the same one over a span of 71 days. It’s the sea star species that was / is impacted the most by Sea Star Wasting. This individual is on an anchor block covered with encrusting coralline algae.

Of many examples of times it has become very clear to me that being a womxn* in science and scuba is important, let me share the following:

On a really hot day, I was “show and tell” for two children in our community. I dressed up in all my dive gear (the full weight and heat of it) and walked down the hallway and into the classroom with Cayden’s little hand in mine on one side, and Sophia’s little hand in mine on the other.

I walked in as a surprise to the other students. I then was gifted the time to talk about the science of the dive gear and the life that lived in the cold Ocean; our neighbours who were just below the surface of where we lived.

I took the equipment off piece by piece after explaining what it did. The children chose to try to lift the weights and cylinder and we discussed pressure and buoyancy (always good metaphors 🙂 ).

In the course of this, among so many moments the filled my heart, a little boy looked up at me. He had such an open expression on his face and he said . . . “You’re my first scuba diver”.

I was his first scuba diver – me an older woman, speaking for science and the sea, engaging not in an elevated way but in a way that invited them all to follow where their loves took them, and yes, I was wearing a bright green tutu.

Scuba sister Janice Crook.

How does this help shape the future? We will never know will we? We are all projecting our energies and images into places where we might increase what is good in the world, or suppress it.

From the depths, love to you my scuba sisters, and to the men we swim beside. Respect and gratitude to all who shine their light so that others may follow; who do NOT push others down in an attempt to feel elevated. That’s such a tragic and transparent indicator of being a hollow human.


Below: A slideshow to honour some scuba sisters.

For those that may not have seen the use of “womxn” before. The spelling of womxn is a feminist choice in two ways. It removes the “m-a-n” from “woman” and “m-e-n” from “women”. It’s also an acknowledgement that I am including trans and non-binary humans when I use the word.

Worms That Bite Anemones?!

Okay, this is a true mystery.

I have relayed my observations to marine worm researchers but want to share with you too. It’s just too fascinating not to do so. These finds emphasize yet again how little we know even about marine species that are just below the surface. I also hope that by sharing my observations here, it may lead to other divers being on the lookout for these interactions and potentially adding to the knowledge about interactions between necklace-worms and anemones.

Necklace-worm species #1 and Proliferating Anemone – January 1st, 2008.
Necklace-worm species #2 and Short Plumose Anemones – March 6, 2022.

My observations involve what I believe are two species of necklace-worm. Each is interacting with a different species of anemone. In both cases, the species of necklace-worm is unconfirmed. The polychaete* researchers I have been in contact with have asked for samples of the worms to allow for microscopic examination and potential DNA analysis.

*Polychaetes are the “many-bristled” worms. They are worms that have a pair of paddle-like appendages / bristles on each segment. Most species of worm in this class are found in the ocean or in brackish water and there are about 15,000 known species globally. Polychaetes “are ubiquitous in the ocean, burrowing and hunting in the sand, crawling on algal covered rocks, living in self-made tubes, or swimming in the water” (Encyclopedia of Biodiversity, 2013).

Note that observations and photos here are from the Pearse Islands and Plumper Islands on northeast Vancouver Island in the territory of the Kwakwaka’wakw in depths less than 17 metres / 50 feet.


Necklace-Worm Species #1 and Proliferating Anemones:
I have written about this previously but include the observations here again so that the information about these necklace-worm / anemone interactions is bundled in one place. It involves a species of necklace worm appearing to bite into Proliferating Anemones (Epiactis prolifera to 8 cm wide).

My first observation of this interaction goes back all the way to 2008 when I documented the following thanks to the keen eye of my dive buddy Natasha Dickinson.

Both photos: Necklace-worm species #1 appears to be biting into a Proliferating Anemone – January 1st, 2008.

I do not know if the necklace-worm dislodged the anemone of if the anemone let go in an attempt to get away. We came upon this scene when the anemone was already upside down.

I have only noted this interaction twice since then. See photos below.

Necklace-worm species #1 and Proliferating Anemone – February 15, 2015. Note the “casings” the worms are in on the left.
Necklace-worm species #1 on the right and Proliferating Anemones – February 22, 2020. [Yes, on the left, those are babies of multiple ages hanging onto their mother. More about that at this link.]

For those who have Lamb and Hanby’s Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest, you may note that this species of necklace-worm looks like AN22 which is referenced as a “mystery necklace-worm”. But again, collection of a sample would be needed to confirm species ID.


Necklace-Worm Species #2 and Short Plumose Anemones:

On February 12, 2022 I saw THIS.

Necklace-worm species #2, Short Plumose Anemones AND the spaces where these anemones used to be. Many of these anemones are retracted. Photo February 12, 2022.

There are necklace-worms in those slime tubes! Where you see the circles is where other Short Plumose Anemones once were (Metridium senile to 10 cm tall and 4 cm across).

Close-up showing the necklace-worms. Photo February 12, 2022.

Were they always at this site? I have done a quick review of past photos and see a few of them in photos back to 2013. Variables in why I may not have noticed them before are that: (1) they were much more apparent as a result of the dislodged anemones; (2) there may be more of them now; and (3) we usually don’t focus on the spot where the concentration of these worms were (we usually dive deeper).

Here’s another photo from that dive to give a better sense of the size of the worms. That Blood Star is about 15 cm long. Photo February 12, 2022.

So TODAY’S mission was to return to this dive site and focus on the interaction between this species of necklace-worm and Short Plumose Anemones. How abundant are they? Are they biting the anemones?Are the worms anywhere other than around Short Plumose Anemones? Are the anemones using their acontia as a defense against the worms? Acontia are defensive strands filled with stinging cells (nematocysts) that are ejected when an anemone is irritated / threatened / stressed. The acontia can extend far beyond the anemone, providing longer distance defense than the stinging cells in an anemones tentacles.

Dive buddy Natasha Dickinson today. This is the exact same spot as what you see in the images from February 12th above. I contrast the two photos at the very end of this blog so you can see how things have changed after 22 days. Of course I do not know how much the anemones would move around in the absence of the worms.


To answer those questions:
– I found the slime tubes almost everywhere there were Short Plumose Anemones at this site. I did not find them anywhere else i.e. this species of necklace-worm’s slime tubes were only around Short Plumose Anemones.
– I only found a few Short Plumose Anemones using their acontia but it seems more likely that they were being used against other anemones. I cannot know if the anemones dislodge themselves as a defense. There were only a few places where there were the circles of slime tubes where an anemone had once been. There were far more places where the slime tubes were in amongst Short Plumose Anemones.
– YES I do believe this species of necklace-worm is biting into the Short Plumose Anemones. See below for abundant photos from today.

Some Short Plumose Anemones using their acontia. See those little white strands?


I will of course provide updates as I learn more via the researchers and other divers / underwater photographers. As always, I hope it is a source of wonder for you to learn more about these species, their adaptations and interactions, AND how much we humans still have to learn about the natural world around us. 🙂


All photos below are from March 6, 2022.

Taking a bite? Also looks like this anemone is about to undergo “pedal laceration” to reproduce asexually.
Here too it looks like some of the anemones are in the process of pedal laceration = form of asexual reproduction.

Below, you can contrast the same spot after 22 days. There has been a lot of change but again, I do not know how much the anemones would move around and/or dislodge in the absence of the worms. Oh no, is this now going to be my life? In addition to trying to document individual Humpback Wales and Tiger Rockfish, now I am going to try to document individual Short Plumose Anemones?! Probably.

It’s a Really Good Time to Be . . .

Yesterday, we found two Sunflower Stars!

See the juvenile here to the right of my buddy Natasha? There, right beside the mating Yellow-Rimmed Nudibranchs. This Sunflower Star was in just 5 metres of water.

Today’s two Sunflower Stars are the first I have seen in twelve hours underwater over the last three months and believe me, I have been looking. I only saw one before that. They are such a rarity now. Will these two survive? I have seen waves of juveniles before and then they disappear. Their plight appears to be linked to climate change.

Hope? With action . . . yes, there is shining hope.

Without action . . . no.

Please hang in there. Please read on.

I have been struggling too, looking for escape / reprieve from global realities as another “atmospheric river” is forecast to fall on parts of our province. It is so tempting to want to hide especially if we see the problems we are facing as disparate. They are not.

I have had to remind myself of the common solutions so that I see a way forward that is not guided by the faintness of blind hope; paralyzed by fear and overwhelm; and / or obfuscated by the din of values and voices that serve the few for a brief time.

Common solutions include: to know, live and share the GAINS that come from using LESS (fossil fuels, dangerous chemicals, disposables, less consumerism generally); to speak for truth and science and to have compassion for those who cannot; to exercise our power as voters and consumers to serve future generations; and to care and act on the knowledge of connection to others – across time, cultures, distance, and species.

In short, it’s a really good time to be a good human. 💙

I had to dig for these words for myself. As always, may they serve you too.


Photos: November 21 in Kwakwaka’wakw Territory near Port Hardy at a site where I have been monitoring sea star since 2013, ©Jackie Hildering.

The same juvenile Sunflower Star a few minutes earlier. Notice the fish? There’s a Painted Greenling on the left and a Blackeye Goby on the right.

For those who are not yet aware, I include the reality of Sea Star Wasting Disease (SSWD) below. A link to a summary of the research and where to report sightings is in my blog at this link.

The other Sunflower Star we saw yesterday.

Since 2013, more than 20 species of sea star have been impacted by SSWD from Mexico to Alaska. There is local variation in intensity of the disease and which species are impacted. It is one of the largest wildlife die-off events in recorded history. Sea stars contort, have lesions, shed arms, and become piles of decay.

Currently, some species of sea star appear to have recovered while others remain very heavily impacted. Sunflower Stars (Pycnopodia helianthoides) have been devastated and were added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list as Critically Endangered. There are current efforts to have Sunflower Stars assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) with hopes that they receive protection under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

There is NOT scientific consensus about the cause. Current hypotheses focus on (i) a virus and (ii) low oxygen at the surface of the sea star’s skin maintained due to bacteria. What is consistent in is that changing environmental conditions appear to allow the pathogen (be it bacteria or viruses) to have a greater impact.

The best current source for a summary of the research is Hamilton et al (August, 2021). From that source: ” . . . outbreak severity may stem from an interaction between disease severity and warmer waters” and “Though we lack a mechanistic understanding of whether temperature or climate change triggered the SSWD outbreak, this study adds to existing evidence that the speed and severity of SSWD are greater in warmer waters”.

What I believe to be the reality off the coast of British Columbia is that there are refuges of Sunflower Stars at depth where it is colder. They spawn with some young then settling in the shallows where they may succumb to the pathogen if stressed by warmer water.

Close up on the second Sunflower Star. This one was at about 20 metres depth.

We Are the Weather Makers

I recently had the great joy of meeting artist Nico Kos Earle through another artistic powerhouse, Dawn Dudek.

In this meeting, Nico referenced a line from her poem “We Are the Flood” that hit me full force with its power to capture so succinctly the reality of we humans and climate change. That line is: “We are the weather makers“.

Below I share the full poem with Nico’s permission. There is so much in the words that moves me and fortifies my resolve.
May it do the same for you. 💙

Poem: Nico Kos Earle
Image: Horizon the Humpback by yours truly.