Skip to content

Starfish Wonders in Alaska

2009 September 17

image od two orange starfish in clear waterStarfish are mysterious creatures. Some people and articles I have read say they should be called sea stars because of their shape and their lack of relationship to fish. I had never taken an interest in them until recently when I visited Alaska and kayaked on the Tatoosh Islands. The Tatoosh are located north of Ketchikan and are part of the Tongass National Forest,  U.S largest national forest.  While kayaking along the coast, I spotted an incredible array of these colorful creatures. Bright orange and pale lavender, spiny and fat, each one more different than the other, they nestled into the dark rocks along the shore.

The starfish on Alaska are extremely different from the giant ones I have seen before on Vieques, Puerto Rico. While their Caribbean relatives are larger and rounder, the ones in the north Pacific cold waters are smaller in size. After kayaking around the Tatoosh, I began my research on these particular sea habitants. Starfish are echinoderms or marine invertebrates with a five-radial symmetry that radiates from a central disc, hence their resemblance to a star. They move by using small water-filled sacs that protrude from their body. This hydraulic vascular system, aside from helping them move, aids them with feeding. Speaking of which, they have two stomachs: one for engulfing their prey and the other one for digestion!  They have a microscopic eye at the end of each arm which helps them move and distinguish between light and dark. While they have a complex nervous system, they lack a centralized brain. I was also very surprised to learn that they are able to regenerate lost arms and that they can travel considerable distances and migrate to breed and search for food.

Starfish have been around five hundred million years and there are around 1,800 species. This region of the North Pacific is among three areas of the world that yields the greatest variety of these echinoderms. Starfish are vital to marine ecosystems because they are calcifiers. Marine calcifiers play important roles in the food chains of nearly all oceanic ecosystems, help regulate ocean chemistry, and are an important source of biodiversity and productivity.

In order to celebrate my new found love for these unique and mysterious creatures, I acquired during my trip a beautiful ring with a silver starfish adhered to a blue stone resembling the ocean.

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Elad permalink
    September 17, 2009

    How could you possibly conclude that they are 500,000,000 years old in a process of their kind of life? Isn’t that a rather large reach?

  2. Brenda-EPA permalink
    September 17, 2009

    I found out this information while researching for my blog.

  3. Johnny R. permalink
    September 17, 2009

    The reason the starfish have lasted so long is they live in balance with their environment. Species that don’t tend to go extinct.

  4. Brenda-EPA permalink
    September 17, 2009

    Thanks for clarifying Johnny R.

  5. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    September 18, 2009

    The waters of the North Pacific are some of the most productive in the world and the large number and variety of starfish along the Alaska Coast is a testiment to that. The natural processes are finely tuned. Greenhouse gases put into the atmosphere from north America could damage the fragile balance by causing the polar ice cap to melt alot faster, releasing more carbon, raising sea level, and raising water temperature. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  6. Jackenson Durand permalink
    September 18, 2009

    Back to my childhood my friends and I used to catch these kinds of species in my native country coastal area. These star fishes are wonderful as I personally observed.
    Planet Earth is very amazing for by his Eco-Systemic creativity. That brings me to understand our two polar hemispheric biodiversity by producing giant’s fishes in North Pole.

  7. Jim Neale permalink
    November 18, 2010

    I have just finished reading about starfish and decided to investigate some more and found your site.
    I read that if you cut a starfish into 10 pieces and throw them back into the water that each piece will grow to a new complete starfish.
    I wonder how they could have evolved this amazing function over millions of years? How could the first limb lost to some accident grow a new starfish?
    Also that the most amazing thing that they do is when they pry open an oyster or clam, that they then push their stomach out through their mouth and surround the soft parts of their victim with their exposed stomach. When finished they then retrieve their stomach and continue their searh for more food.
    Why not just eat the oyster or clam and digest it inside like all other creatures?

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS