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March 7, 2015

Over the passed week there have been several occurrences reported to us regarding Starfish washing ashore. These events can be triggered by a wide variety of environmental and human interference’s. The most obvious explanation for these animals washing up would be because of a combination of recent strong currents, very high tides, high winds and rough seas. The vast majority of species washed up were found in shallow waters and therefore vulnerable to changing conditions more than deeper water species.

For instance Starfish tend to feed on mollusks, whose beds are typically in shallow water. Millions of starfish will congregate around mussel beds at any time, and when strong currents pass through these habitats during a storm, starfish can be lifted away from their meal and carried to the shore. While seeing thousands of starfish on land might be a striking sight, it is not uncommon given the huge numbers of these sea creatures that gather around mollusk beds.

Although the second syllable of its name might suggest some level of swimming ability, the starfish is a weak swimmer. Instead, it typically crawls from surface to surface and does particularly well in rocky areas. It has tube-like suction cups on the bottom of its feet that help it to move and to cling to its terrain. If the ocean current is strong enough, the starfish will not be able to hold onto any surface and will drift, unable to control where it travels.

Some starfish move closer to the shore when they are ready to breed, so it is possible that this is what causes them to be washed ashore in large numbers. However, starfish breeding usually takes place in spring and summer, and since most of the mass strandings have been reported in the winter, it is more likely that storms are the cause. One other possibility is that boats dredging the ocean floor for mollusks stir up starfish and cause them to float ashore.

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