This lone sunflower star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) was spotted at Madrona Point near Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island. There has been a huge decline in many varieties of sea stars on the west coast due to a phenomenon commonly called “the wasting disease”. I recall diving twenty years ago and the ocean floor would be covered with sunflower stars. Actually, my strongest memory of my very first cold water ocean dive, at Whyecliff Park near Vancouver, was descending and seeing huge colourful sunflower stars below me. These massive predators can grow up to three feet across and weigh eleven pounds.
The wasting disease is apparently one of the biggest wildlife die-offs to ever be recorded and ranges from Mexico to Alaska. Unfortunately, the disease is still prevalent and I’ve noticed affected sea stars while diving. I hope this young sunflower star survives, and a recovery for these animals is just around the corner.
The following CBC article offers more information on the subject: