The Pacific Coast of the United States is just so. damn. beautiful.

Image from Jonathan.s.kt/Wikimedia Commons.


It's studded with tree-covered islands, little hidden coves, and driftwood-strewn beaches. It looks like a postcard. Heck, it looks like where two postcards would go to get married!

And one of the best things about it is the amazing animal life. There are pods of wild orca whales, magnificent sea lions, adorable sea otters, and the king-of-all-that-is-strange giant Pacific octopus. But it's not just the big animals that are awesome; the Pacific Coast's little guys are amazing too.

One of its most recognizable, and colorful, denizens is the ochre sea star.

Photo via iStock.

It's hard to miss their bright purple, pink, and orange bodies — they're like what happens if you let Lisa Frank design an invertebrate. They're a common sight in tide pools and intertidal zones.

At least, they were.

Sadly, a mystery virus has been wiping them out for the last few years.

In 2014, "sea star wasting disease" appeared in Oregon. The disease wasn't unique to ochre sea stars — it affects many different species — but they were hit especially hard. Affected animals get weak and then just sort of ... fall apart. Like they were made of wet tissue paper.

(If you want to see the kind-of-gross aftermath, you can follow this link).

Scientists quickly identified the disease as a type of virus, but that didn't help the sea stars. Since it appeared, it's proceeded to wipe out about four-fifths of the ochre sea star population. It's also spread up to Alaska and all the way down to Baja California.

Starfish help keep the coastline's ecosystem in balance, so losing them could be really bad.

While they might look like blobs of Play-Doh, sea stars are actually the tigers of the tide pool. They eat a ton of mussels; so many, in fact, that when starfish disappear, mussel populations explode to the point of crowding out other species.

This makes starfish what is known as a keystone species.

Like a bomb waiting to go off. Image from Andreas Tretpte/Wikimedia Commons.

But there's some good news! Because although we've lost a lot of adult sea stars in recent years, people are finding a TON of baby stars right now.

Photo from iStock.

Scientists from Oregon State University just published a paper announcing their discovery of the recent baby boom.

"The number of juveniles was off the charts — higher than we'd ever seen — as much as 300 times normal," said lead author Professor Bruce Menge in a press release.

Why so many babies? It didn't look like there were more born than usual. Instead, Menge believes it was because more babies survived than normal, possibly because fewer adults meant more food for the babies.

There's still a mystery though. Why did the virus strike now?

Image from D. Gordon E. Robertson/Wikimedia Commons.

The virus has probably been around for a long time. It's even been found in preserved starfish from as far back as the 1940s. And there have been smaller outbreaks in the past but nothing of this size.

So what's different now? We're not sure. Menge doesn't think it's from warmer ocean temperatures (which has been hurting other areas, like coral reefs), but there are other possibilities as well.

"Ocean acidification is one possibility, and we’re looking at that now," said Menge. "Ultimately, the cause seems likely to be multi-faceted."

Nevertheless, this is a good sign. The Earth can regenerate and heal.

It's too early to say that these new babies are safe, since the virus could strike again, but it's an awesome display of nature's ability to bounce back. Humanity hasn't always been kind to the ocean — we overfish, we dump trash, we pollute its waters — but the Earth is nothing if not resilient.

This article originally appeared on November 11, 2015


Remember those beloved Richard Scarry books from when you were a kid?

Like a lot of people, I grew up reading them. And now, I read them to my kids.

The best!

If that doesn't ring a bell, perhaps this character from the "Busytown" series will. Classic!

Image via

Scarry was an incredibly prolific children's author and illustrator. He created over 250 books during his career. His books were loved across the world — over 100 million were sold in many languages.

But here's something you may not have known about these classics: They've been slowly changing over the years.

Don't panic! They've been changing in a good way.

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Photo by Maxim Hopman on Unsplash

The Sam Vimes "Boots" Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness explains one way the rich get richer.

Any time conversations about wealth and poverty come up, people inevitably start talking about boots.

The standard phrase that comes up is "pull yourself up by your bootstraps," which is usually shorthand for "work harder and don't ask for or expect help." (The fact that the phrase was originally used sarcastically because pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps is literally, physically impossible is rarely acknowledged, but c'est la vie.) The idea that people who build wealth do so because they individually work harder than poor people is baked into the American consciousness and wrapped up in the ideal of the American dream.

A different take on boots and building wealth, however, paints a more accurate picture of what it takes to get out of poverty.

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"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937) and actor Peter Dinklage.

On Tuesday, Upworthy reported that actor Peter Dinklage was unhappy with Disney’s decision to move forward with a live-action version of “Snow White and the Seven Drawfs” starring Rachel Zegler.

Dinklage praised Disney’s inclusive casting of the “West Side Story” actress, whose mother is of Colombian descent, but pointed out that, at the same time, the company was making a film that promotes damaging stereotypes about people with dwarfism.

"There's a lot of hypocrisy going on, I've gotta say, from being somebody who's a little bit unique," Dinklage told Marc Maron on his “WTF” podcast.

"Well, you know, it's really progressive to cast a—literally no offense to anybody, but I was a little taken aback by, they were very proud to cast a Latino actress as Snow White," Dinklage said, "but you're still telling the story of 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.' Take a step back and look at what you're doing there.”

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