Newport, Oregon – Oregon Coast Aquarium (OCAq) staff discovered 25 critically endangered sunflower sea stars in Yaquina Bay, the most documented in one location since populations were decimated by Sea Star Wasting Syndrome (SSWS).
The group took to the bay in search of fish and invertebrates, which OCAq is permitted to acquire a limited number of each year. During the excursion, staff documented one adult and 24 juvenile sunflower stars—the largest measuring just six inches across. Fully grown, the stars can reach up to four feet across and have as many as 26 arms.
SSWS caused a mass die off of sea stars along the Pacific Coast in 2013-2017. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates 90 percent of the sunflower star population fell to the disease.
Sunflower stars are a keystone species, native to the coastal waters of the Northeast Pacific Ocean. They play an important role keeping urchin populations in check, preventing the destruction of offshore kelp forests that serve as vital nursery habitat for marine life.
“We have to document this,” said OCAq Aquarist Tiffany Rudek as she began measuring the stars. Rudek spent the last several years developing an effective treatment for sea stars impacted by stress, injury, or disease—including those suffering with SSWS symptoms. She continues to collaborate with marine life groups involved in sea star research efforts.
After photographing and measuring the sunflower stars, each was carefully returned to the sandy seafloor. This concentration of juvenile sunflower stars may be a precursor of the species’ recovery, though only time will tell.
“To come across not one, but twenty five sunflower stars?” said Rudek. “It’s incredible. It’s unprecedented. I am so excited about what this could mean for the species.”
About Oregon Coast Aquarium
Since opening in 1992, the Oregon Coast Aquarium has been a premier attraction on Oregon’s central coast and an enduring advocate for the health of our ocean. For over three decades this 501(c)3 non-profit organization has supported marine wildlife and fostered environmental stewardship through its education programs, community partnerships, and rehabilitation efforts. Accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, the Oregon Coast Aquarium is consistently ranked as one of the top 10 aquariums in the U.S., providing visitors with opportunities to connect with 15,000 animals spanning 300 different species. The Oregon Coast Aquarium is located at 2820 S.E. Ferry Slip Rd., Newport, OR. aquarium.org, 541-867-3474. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter for the latest updates.