Text and Photo by Amanda Marie Lovell
In the Pacific Northwest basket stars can be found in high current areas clinging to hard and soft coral, sponges, rocks, and even to each other, like this one. These extraordinary creatures have five delicately spiraled arms that divide and branch out in every direction. When they’re feeding, divers will see them waving gracefully in the current, their appendages completely extended in a basket-like form that captures planktonic prey.
Found from 30-foot (9m) shallows down to more than 6,000 feet (1,800m), this marine invertebrate is not a true sea star although the basic body structure is similar, with multiple arms arrayed around a central disc. The difference is that basket star arms connect directly to this disc and not to each other at the base like the many true sea stars we see on a dive.
Basket stars may appear stationary but they can and do move around, often finding a secure crevice in which to spend the night, returning to a more exposed vantage point in the current come meal time. And because they depend on the current to deliver nutrients to them, it’s mostly in this moving water (often a drift dive) that divers observe these fascinating animals in action. At slack tide they often look like some weird ball of string on the ocean floor.
I love the way they dance in the current, continually changing. Even when they’re still, arms curled up in an endless collection of tight little ringlets, their persona compels me to keep shooting. That’s what makes them one of my favourite creatures to photograph.
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