Mysterious Starfish Die-Off

rsz_sunflowerstarWhen most people think of sea stars, I don’t think  they comprehend that they are rapacious predators scouring the seabed, forcing their stomachs out of their bodies and eating almost everything in sight, but this may simply be a matter of perspective.

Sunflower Sea stars (youtube link) are voracious  subtidal predators, feeding on bivalves, snails, chitons, urchins, other asteroids, sea cucumbers, sand dollars, and crabs.

These bottom-dwellers may be humble creatures, but they play important roles in the ocean ecosystem, including keeping populations of shellfish in check, and, according to recent studies, absorbing large amounts of carbon in the world’s oceans. – Sea Stars

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It’s now been widely reported that the waters off British Columbia, Canada, are littered with dead starfish, and researchers have no idea what’s causing the deaths. So delicate is the balance in the marine environment that any gain or loss of relatively few animals in any species can have a domino effect with repercussions that span decades. Hopefully, international experts can help figure out what’s killing them.

Who knows? This may even be a case of Mother Nature rectifying an imbalance. An over abundance of starfish were reported in the locations last year that are full of dead and dying starfish this year.

At the end of August, marine biologist and scuba diver Jonathan Martin was out on his usual Saturday dive with some friends when he noticed dead starfish that looked like they had their arms chopped off.

Published on Sep 2, 2013 – A mass die-off of both Sunflower Sea Stars (Pycnopodia helianthoides) and sun stars (Solaster dawsoni) was observed in the waters around Vancouver, BC at the end of August and the beginning of September, 2013. This is video from Kelvin Grove, BC on September 2nd, but similar scenes are seen at Whytecliff park, and other popular local dive sites.

Massive Starfish Die-Off Baffles Scientists
Dead starfish in Vancouver waters puzzle scientists

8 thoughts on “Mysterious Starfish Die-Off

  1. I wonder if there was an over abundance which then meant there was not enough food for them all. They really are voracious. In fact, the Crown of Thorns starfish is a pest on the Great Barrier Reef, where it damages the coral.

  2. Crown of Thorns Starfish has done massive damage to our Great Barrier Reef the past 4 decades. We are having hundreds of Mutton birds wash up on our local beaches the past couple of days. Exhaustion and/or lack of food seems the cause. They are migratory and the dry weather spell on East Coast Australia is causing food supply deficiencies.
    Be good to yourself
    David

    • While my friends finished their cabin renovation this spring and summer I was the caregiver for their grandchildren, who they are now parenting. I’m an artist living on an island. Kid’s art and biology are among my interests so we spent many hours examining the intertidal life on the beach and in tide-pools. There were an abundance of colorful sea stars and the kids created many drawings, paintings and even paper mache projects that all featured sea stars.

    • Without doubt they are voracious predators who also feast on carcasses. Sea stars use their tube feet for mobility and grasp bivalve shells like those of clams to pull them open. Then they push their stomachs out of their bodies through their mouths to devour the creatures inside the shells.

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