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That Friend of SpongeBob: Spiny Pink Sea Star Resides Along Oregon / Washington Coast

Published 06/28/23 at 6:37 p.m.
B
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

That Friend of Spongebob: Spiny Pink Sea Star Resides Along Oregon / Washington Coast

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(Seaside, Oregon) - Guess who lives just off those beautiful breakers along the Oregon coast and Washington coast? (All photos Allysa Casteel of Seaside Aquarium)

Yes, a good ol' pal of SpongeBob Squarepants. Patrick Star – or at least the creature that inspired the kooky buffoon – is also a resident of the Seaside Aquarium. There's actually six of them there, at this writing. And they are actually known as the spiny pink sea star, a rather boldly-colored form of starfish that are scavengers.

Yet sea stars in general are even dumber than he is, but they're a lot more interesting. Indeed, these near-shore dwellers are total alien freaks, really, but arguably pretty freaks.

Allysa Casteel of Seaside Aquarium first clued Oregon Coast Beach Connection to some of what was going on here, starting with some rather intense pics she snapped.


The “Patricks,” she said, are technically known as Pisaster Brevispinus: “a big ol’ spiky pink star.”

“They can grow up to 28 inches in diameter, the arms alone growing to three inches thick, making it one of the largest known sea star species ever recorded,” she said. “ Just like most other species of stars, the diet of this shapely echinoderm consists of already dead fish, mollusks buried in the sand, snails, small crab if they get too close, and sand dollars too. With its eversible (reversible) stomach and digestive enzymes, this star will stick its stomach up to three inches out to digest its prey in its own shell. Savage.”

Tiffany Boothe of the Seaside Aquarium told Oregon Coast Beach Connection they average about 12 or 13 inches in diameter. They truly do live in SpongeBob territory: usually in areas deeper than near-shore rises beneath the breakers.


Surface of the spiny pink sea star gives it the name

They are quite alien in many ways – nothing like most lifeforms here on Earth. Its body is covered in little bumps and tube-like objects, which are essentially its appendages used for moving around, looking or grabbing prey.

“ There is a small disc located on the surface of the sea star called the madreporite,” Boothe said. “Seawater that is essential for sea stars to survive is brought into their bodies via the madreporite. Sea stars have a water vascular system, in which seawater, instead of blood, circulates throughout the sea star's body. If this isn't Syfy enough for you, they also have skin gills, papulae and pedicellariae, beak-like appendages equipped with pincers used for removing invaders (this is why you will never see a barnacle attached to a sea star.)”

In fact, if any marine larvae manage to attach to the sea star's body those little beak-like things will pinch it right off.

They are fussy little guys as well.


These little tubes are their feet

These freaks of the deep have tiny tubes for feet, which also serves to suck in sea water. By doing so, they actually extend the feet.

“Recent studies indicate that they use a combination of an adhesive chemical to stick to a surface or prey and a separate chemical to detach themselves,” Boothe said. “It gets even stranger; they can also exchange gas through their feet. Yep, they can breathe through their feet.”

Another alien aspect: even though they have eyes of a sort on each arm, they can't see images. They only sense dark to light areas with no detail.


Their rudimentary eyes

“Sea star wasting disease has impacted the population of many species of sea stars, including the spiny pink sea star,” Boothe said. “Thankfully we are starting to see populations begin to rebound. Even the heaviest hit species, such as the sunflower star, have been spotted recently in tidepools where they had all but vanished.”

If you're in tidepool areas like Rialto Beach, the rocky areas near Ilwaco, or Yachats or Shore Acres, you should try to look for them. They're not exclusive to the deeper areas. If you're lucky, you may spot one. Don't expect it to talk to you or dress in pants, however.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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