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A Very Alien Oregon Coast Resident: the Basket Star

Published 01/31/2016 at 8:51 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

(Oregon Coast) – One stunning creature is lurking off the waters of the Oregon coast that you'll never see: the Basket star. Except periodically in one of the three big aquarium facilities on these shorelines: the Hatfield Marine Science, Center, Oregon Coast Aquarium or Seaside Aquarium. (Photo courtesy Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium).

The Basket star can never go near the air we breathe, and such a physiological disposition would help explain the wild appearance, like something out of a sci-fi movie. Indistinct in shape, they have dozens of branch-like appendages meandering out of them in a puzzling, seemingly nonsensical bundle of different directions at once. Essentially, these are arms.

They are a form sea star – although they look like they’re from the stars of outer space. There’s even a weird fractal element to their physical design. (All Basket star photos courtesy Seaside Aquarium).

With their central body only at five inches or less, all those arms can stretch to expand the creature to over two feet. In fact, that's one of the stringent conditions needed to allow them to survive in captivity.

They are incredibly difficult to care for, according to Keith Chandler, manager of Seaside Aquarium. The facility has had them in the past, periodically, but they don't live very long. The Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport have both had them as well, but again, they are not around for more than a few months.

“They cannot be exposed to air,” Chandler said. “They have to be transferred underwater. If they get pockets of air underneath one of their arms, the arms break off.”

Tiffany Boothe of the Seaside Aquarium added that these complex-looking creatures are so sensitive you can't see them in the ocean unless you're diving.

You'll find Basket stars at pretty low depths in the oceans, from 50 feet below sea level down to about 500 feet. They've been found as far down at 6,000 feet, and you can find them along the west coast of North America as far south as California.

When in captivity, they need a constant stream of fairly forceful water rushing over them, as that is part of how they feed. Mostly, they live in areas with strong currents. This adds to the difficulty in keeping them alive in an aquarium, as those conditions aren't easy to duplicate.

“They feed on small planktonic creatures by catching them with small hooks located on their branched arms,” Boothe said. “If you look closely, you will see that the basket star has only five arms which branch and branch and branch again. They are hypnotizing when they move.”

Those branched arms form little knots, and from there the arm goes back into the central disk. Scientists don't know yet how the food is consumed inside them after that, but it is known the creatures lean towards zooplankton for edibles.

Each is a different color, but most are somewhat orange or red in some way, while some can be whitish.

They last time the Seaside Aquarium had one was in 2014. Since they don't live long, the aquarium doesn't usually have them around. But Chandler said your chances of seeing one at the famed Seaside attraction increases in the high season, when more people visit.

“We tend to get them in the summertime so more people can see them,” Chandler said.

Seaside Aquarium. Seaside, Oregon. www.seasideaquarium.com 503-738-6211. Oregon Coast Aquarium. 2820 S.E. Ferry Slip Road. Newport, Oregon. 541-867-3474. www.aquarium.org. Hatfield Marine Science Center is at 2030 SE Marine Science Drive. (541) 867-0226. http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/. Note: is worth a try to call one of these facilities first and see if a Basket star is present - or even better yet, simply visit and see everything in these attractions. Where to stay in these areas - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours

Below: more fascinating creatures from Seaside Aquarium, courtesy Tiffany Boothe.





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A famous little family eatery where the seafood practically gets shuffled from the sea straight into your mouth. Soups and salads include many seafood specialties, including cioppino, chowders, crab Louie and cheese breads. Fish 'n' chips come w/ various fish. Seafood sandwiches with shrimp, tuna or crab, as well as burgers. Dinners like pan fried oysters, fillets of salmon or halibut, saut�ed scallops.
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