Sea Stars Making A Comeback Off Oregon Coast

After a long bout against sea star wasting syndrome, the aquatics species’ numbers are gradually increasing in areas off the Oregon coast. Divers from the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport recently spotted the creatures by the thousands.

“Never Seen Them In Numbers Like That”

The dive team, including Dive Safety Officer Jenna Walker, found juvenile sea stars in abundance at Florence’s North Jetty. “I have never seen them is numbers like that. It was pretty incredible,” Walker said in a press release.

With as many as 200 individual juvenile sea stars per square meter in the area, aquatic researchers are hoping the numbers are a sign that the species is rebounding in our waters after the population was hit hard by sea star wasting syndrome. This condition, the cause of which is still unknown, causes lesions on sea stars that eventually lead the creatures to essentially disintegrate.

A juvenile sea star.

A juvenile sea star.

A lack of parental supervision, if you will, is a cause of some confusion. All the sea stars discovered by the OCA dive team were juveniles, with nary an adult in sight. In other sea star-heavy locations, such as the Newport area, adult specimens of multiple species can be found, while their young are absent. However, this can be attributed at least in part to the creatures’ life cycles: many varieties of sea star start out as nigh-microscopic zooplankton that can be carried by ocean currents to locations miles and miles from breeding areas.

Revenge of the Viable Gametes

According to Stuart Clausen, assistant curator of fishes and invertebrates at Oregon Coast Aquarium, finding young sea stars in such high numbers is no guarantee that the species is totally back on track. However, the find “is encouraging. It means some adults survived or at least put viable gametes in the water before being affected” by the wasting syndrome.

OCA researchers were not able to determine precisely which species the numerous juvenile sea stars were, but the four varieties most affected by the wasting syndrome outbreak were the giant pink, local sunflower, ochre, and false ochre.

Photo credit: Squash713 / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND