This Fisherman Just Caught a Starfish With 19 Arms

by Matthew Memrick

A Washington state fisherman crossed paths with a 19-armed starfish recently.

The South West News Service reported that Lee LeFever found the ultra-rare sunflower sea star on a crab fishing excursion. The man was fishing off Orcas Island, a remote island in the northwest portion of San Juan County.

One of the man’s crab traps had a fluorescent orange starfish in it. The sunflower sea star has suffered a population decline in that region of the world over the past few years. The International Union of Conservation of Nature said the starfish’s population has decreased by 90 percent due to a “2013 outbreak of sea star wasting syndrome.”

The disease, which causes lesions and tissue decay, knocked out approximately 5.75 billion individual sea stars globally across almost 2,000 miles of coastline.

Another factor has been climate change with warmer ocean temperatures.

All facts aside, if you see something with that many arms approaching you, do you hug it or swim off screaming into the night?

Man Has Healthy Starfish

LeFever, of Orcas, took a photo of the healthy 19-armed starfish. Many observed the sea star’s vibrant color. The starfish come in different colors and reportedly live up to 37 years.

Some sunflower sea stars can go up to 24 arms, according to the IUCN. They can also grow to be 24 inches long. The online encyclopedia reference Brittanica points out that the sea star’s saltwater habitat is in the Pacific Ocean waters between Alaska and California.

While beautiful, these sea stars are predatory. They feed on sea urchins, clams, snails, and other small invertebrates.

LeFever told the news service he released the starfish into The Salish Sea.

“Catching a sunflower sea star was potential evidence that they are making a comeback,” he told the British news agency. “Sea stars are an important part of the ocean ecology, and any evidence that they are still around is potentially good news.”

Another Sea Species Under Attack

A Canadian report has identified a decline in kelp forests because of the lack of sunflower sea stars. Ocean Wise researchers found that the green sea urchin population in one area, Howe Sound, has quadrupled because there are not enough sunflower sea stars. Howe Sound is northwest of Vancouver and has dealt with pollution from copper mining since the 1970s.

The website also reported that Canada does not list sunflower sea stars as a protected species, but efforts to better protect and restore the sea stars are underway. 

In a news release, the organization is working to conserve these kelp forests. They are planting new kelp fronts while harvesting urchins. 

Oceanwatch said kelp forests are essential breeding grounds and nurseries for many fish and invertebrate species, such as rockfish, herring, crabs and prawns, as well as sea otters.