What Happens When Sea Stars and Cold Water Mix

Nothing that smells good.

One of the sea star species that we have in this area, Luidia clathrata, the Gray Sea Star, prefers apparently to live in very dense groups, so when the colder water came in early, the cold-shocked sea stars washed up in the hundreds [Smithsonian Species Profile].

Along with them were the less common Common Sea Star, Asterias forbesi, and a few species of sea cucumbers. While these species can tolerate water temperatures in the 50s, they tend to migrate to deeper, warmer water during the winter [Echinodermata: Proceedings]. These poor creatures were caught without their ‘coats’ when the cold water came in too early.

Local news covered the sea stars. Read here: Island Packet

Above: A pile of gray and common sea stars, arks, and spider crabs.

Below: Two sea gulls fighting over a sea star [as if there weren’t many, many more].

Above: A common sea star left high and dry after an incoming tide.

Below: Tube feet reaching out under the water on a partially dried sea star.

Above: A sanderling feeding on a sea cucumber.

Above: Cold-shocked sea cucumbers.

A grackle coming in for an evening snack.

Above: A six-legged sea star.

Although it is a tragic sight to see so many creatures essentially die slowly from hypothermia because their tube feet can only carry them so far, so fast, for other creatures it was a blessing to have so much food available during the cold snap. Birds were able to stock up on calories by consuming sea stars and sea cucumbers that, ironically, were too cold to find the food that would supply the calories to survive. 

[Coming in the near future…a trip to a National Park flood plain!]

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2 thoughts on “What Happens When Sea Stars and Cold Water Mix

    • Thank you Kerri! It is overwhelming to see so many, hopefully there are ones that are safe and sound in deeper, warmer water.

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