Tofino Wildlife: Stars of the Sea
by Melanie Knight, Tofino
You may know those 5 armed, star shaped things hanging out in the intertidal
as “starfish”, but since they’re not fish, they are
more suitably called “sea stars”!
Of the 2,000 species of sea stars worldwide, approximately 40 of
them live in bc waters. While exploring the rocky shores of Clayoquot
Sound, you’ll likely see the ‘common sea star’ or ‘ochre
star’ (Pisaster ochraceus) clinging to the wet rocks or draped
over a mussel.
Sea stars usually have 5 arms, but some can have many more. One local
species, for example, the sunflower star (Pycnopodia helianthoide),
can have up to 24 arms! Sea stars come in an array of eye-catching
colours, which like our hair colour, is controlled by genetics. The
ochre star can be purple, orange or brown. The white dots that you
see are actually a network of spines, giving them a hard stiff body.
The mouth is located on their underside and is surrounded by thousands
of little suction cup-like appendages or “tube feet”. They
use these tube feet to cling to the rocks, breath and pry open their
Voraciously, these intertidal creatures will eat anything in their
path, devouring oysters, clams, barnacles, and especially mussels.
Sea stars have a very unique way of feeding. They can actually push
their stomachs outside of their bodies! They use their tube feet to
pry open the shells of their prey and then insert their stomachs inside
them. As critical predators in the intertidal, sea stars keep everything
in check. Since they are spiny and offer little meat, not much preys
Many sea stars are highly specialized for living both in and out
of water. Keeping cool, staying moist, dealing with rainwater and predation,
are just a few of the challenges that they face in the intertidal zone.
Sea stars defend against the elements by huddling together, climbing
under rocks, and reducing movement. So, if you see a sea star that
looks lifeless, let it be—it’s just coping with the elements.
Sea stars are sometimes taken home by people to be dried out and
used as decorations, an unfortunate fate for such significant intertidal
dwellers. Close to a million people a year visit local beaches, imagine
if everyone took a sea star home! Sea stars play an important role
in the ecology of the seashore; please do not remove these animals
from their homes.
Bring your intertidal questions to the Raincoast Interpretive Centre
or join us on our low tide seashore walks every Thursday at 10 am.
Meet at the South Chesterman Beach Parking lot. $5.00 donation rain
or shine, everyone welcome.
Did You Know?