#6 in the 2018 series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin.
Message from Bobby:
My latest shift on the beach was a bit of a slow one. It was not a very low tide and the overcast and drizzle kept families from heading down. The folks that did come down were really great and knowledgable. I am continually amazed how well the kids and teens know their local sea creatures. One of the questions we get asked the most is have we seen any sea stars and how are they doing. People have heard about sea star wasting syndrome and they are concerned. They recall times years back where sea stars would be everywhere. For a quick recap: Starting in 2013, a mysterious syndrome began effecting sea star populations up and down the Pacific coastline. Within a few months sea stars were "melting" in record numbers. The hardest hit were the ochre star—the purple and orange stars that are common on our beaches. Marine researches still do not know the cause, though most signs point towards a viral pathogen. The good news is that we have seen a drop in the number of stars with the syndrome. Signs are looking up and populations of ochre stars are slowly starting to recover.
I went back into the archives and pulled some of my favorite sea star photos from the past few years.
Ochre Stars, purple sea stars (Pisaster ochraceus)
These stars can be purple, yellow/orange, or brown. They have a web-like array of white spines and generally have 5 arms. Ochre stars can live for more than 20 years. They feed on barnacles, limpets, snails, and mussels.
Leather star (Dermasterias imbricata)
The leather star has a mottled, leathery. slick upper surface and are generally red with patches of grey or brown. If you give a leather star a big sniff it smells like garlic. Most leather stars will have a "commensal" scale worm that lives in the spaces between the leathers star's tube feet. Leather stars like to eat anemones and urchin.
Blood star (Henricia leviscula)
Blood stars are vivid orange or brick-red and are small compared to other sea stars. They feed primarily upon sponges.
Mottled star (Evasterias troschelii)
Often mistaken for ochre stars, mottled stars are not as vivid in color, have longer slender legs, and tend to stay in protected areas.
Sunflower star (Pycnopodia helianthoides)
These stars are the fastest sea star in the Northern Pacific. They have up to 26 rays and can have an estimated 15,000 tube feet on its body. A skilled predator, sunflower stars have wide range of appetites.
Long arm brittle star (Amphiodia periercta)
These small stars can be found from the intertidal zone to over 5,000' deep. They are also an indicator of water quality, since they avoid areas with wastewater.
This is Bobby’s third year as a beach naturalist.
His passion for the Salish Sea started when he and his wife moved to Seattle five years ago from San Antonio, Texas.
Bobby is an avid photographer and enjoys capturing his adventures of the Pacific Northwest. During the week you will find him leading a creative team at a large non-profit healthcare company.