Sea Star Rave

Equipment: Sony a7R IV, Sony 20–70mm f/4 lens, Nauticam housing, two Inon Z-330 strobes
Settings: 1/15 sec, f/14, ISO 800
Location: Makako Bay, West Hawai’i Island (Garden Eel Cove)

I had dived in Makako Bay, Hawai’i, many times over many years without seeing a single knobby sea star. The first time I encountered one, however, it wasn’t just one, but more than a hundred of them together. They were all gone a day later, and I haven’t seen one since. 

This attractive echinoderm, known elsewhere as the Panamic cushion star (Pentaceraster cumingi), lives throughout the Eastern Pacific. According to John Hoover’s excellent guide to invertebrates, they are usually at depths of 100 feet (30 meters) or more in Hawai’i, which would explain why many divers there have never seen one. 

Large Hawaiian aggregations, such as the one pictured, rarely appear and haven’t been previously photographed to my knowledge. The single scientific paper published on the sea stars’ short-lived seasonal aggregations (in the Sea of Cortez) suggests the gatherings are related to reproduction.

These Hawaiian stars are as photogenic as the Caribbean Oreaster genus but too rare for the roundup that photographers there often do to fill out a composition. What motivates them to occasionally leave their deep-water lives for shallower depths and how they arrange the meeting place and time remain among the sea’s many mysteries.

© Alert Diver — Q2 2024