Hundreds of Starfish Have Washed Up on South Carolina Beaches

Hundreds of starfish have been washing up along the South Carolina coast in recent weeks.

Tourists and locals have spotted the stranded echinoderms on beaches in Hilton Head Island, The Island Packet reported.

While the exact number has not been confirmed, the star-shaped creatures have been continuing to strand themselves along the shoreline in large numbers.

However, despite being a eerie sight, they have actually stranded due to a natural phenomenon that has occurred in the area before.

Starfish strandings can happen anywhere in the world, however, it is particularly common in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

The number of starfish currently washing ashore along Hilton Head Island is smaller than in previous mass stranding events, which saw thousands of the critters beached.

Star fish stranding
A picture shows starfish washed up on another beach. This occurs globally, however, is particularly common in South Carolina. Matt Cardy/Getty Images

In 2020, the phenomenon made headlines when Garden City Beach in Horry County was nearly completely covered in the animals.

Scientists believe this happens because the starfish live between high tide and low tide lines.

Following the mass stranding event in 2020, an aquarist from Ripley's Aquarium, Dakota Hughes, told WPDE-TV that starfish bury themselves within the sand and can become exposed when the tide suddenly changes course.

While it is more common in the summer months, the strandings can follow a bout of extreme weather conditions—whether that be cooler or warmer.

In cooler temperatures, the cold-blooded sea creatures stiffen up and are less able to move—this can cause them to be carried by the currents without the ability to swim.

When the temperature becomes suddenly warmer, the creatures will shed their own limbs. This is a survival tactic used to protect themselves from overheating.

When the starfish began washing up along the shore, South Carolina's Lowcountry was seeing lows around 60 degrees Fahrenheit, The Island Packet reported.

Pictures of the 2020 mass stranding were shared to Facebook at the time

Another explanation could be a stronger current, also caused by the changing weather. When this happens, starfish have been observed rolling themselves up into a ball-like shape. They do this in order to be carried along by the currents at a faster pace.

Prior to the mass stranding even tin 2020, over 1,000 starfish were spotted lying along Lowcountry beaches in 2018, the local news outlet said.

And in 2014, Fripp Island, off South Carolina, saw around 100,000 of the critters washed ashore.

Starfish cannot breathe without being submerged, meaning they can die within seconds if they are removed from the water.

However, even if they are stranded, it does not mean they are dead. Starfish are alive if their tiny tentacles are still moving on their underside. However, in the 2020 event, there were too many to return to the water.