Sunflower Star

February 2024
sunflower star

Endangered Species of Sea Star in BC

In the depths of British Columbia’s coastal waters lives an incredibly fascinating creature: the Sunflower Star. With its vibrant colours and impressive size, this sea star proudly claims the distinction of being the largest known species in the region.

Known scientifically as Pycnopodia helianthoides, the Sunflower Star is named for its resemblance to a blooming sunflower. With its numerous arms radiating from a central disc, it can reach an astonishing diameter of three feet. Its dazzling hues of orange, purple, and yellow make it a true standout in the underwater world.

The feeding behaviour of the Sunflower Star is one of its most intriguing aspects: unlike other sea stars that primarily feed on mollusks or small invertebrates, the Sunflower Star is a voracious predator! It has a diverse diet that includes sea urchins, clams, snails, and even other sea stars. Its ability to consume such a wide variety of prey has earned it the nickname “the vacuum cleaner of the sea.”

Unfortunately, the Sunflower Star has faced significant challenges in recent years. A devastating disease known as the “Sea Star Wasting Syndrome” has caused mass die-offs of sea stars along the Pacific coast. This disease has had a severe impact on the Sunflower Star population, leading to an extreme decline in their numbers. It is estimated that due to disease and ocean warming, the population has decreased by approximately 90%. Some recent studies show that restoring Sunflower Stars would play a key role in preserving the health and resilience of North American bull kelp forests – which are essential to the well-being of the local ecosystem.

Efforts are underway to better understand the Sea Star Wasting Syndrome, as well as to protect and conserve the Sunflower Star and its habitat. By raising awareness about this species and actively supporting conservation initiatives, we can contribute to preserving BC’s largest sea star and the delicate balance of coastal ecosystems.