The ‘dancing’ Sea Star

Paula and I have had close encounters with the second largest animal on the planet, the Fin Whale, on several occasions.  The nutrient rich waters of the Humboldt Current  attract them as well as many other large mammals and seabirds to the Chilean coast.


Rorcual comun

Rorcual comun



Whales and Dolphins, Sea Otters and most other mammals are identifiable as individuals and we know them to be highly social in their behaviour. Rarely do we attribute these traits to the lower groups of smaller animals but soon we were to be surprised by meeting one such special animal.


We wanted to spend some time looking for the animal life upon which the marine profusion of larger animals depended.  South of the city of Copiapo, we located an isolated area on the coast to spend a few days.  Its small white beach was comprised of crushed shells thrown up by periodic winter storms whilst the daily cycle of tides swept the rocky, seaweed fringed shore, refreshing a myriad of translucent rock pools.


Nuestro camping a  Los Burros

Nuestro camping a Los Burros



Peruvian Boobies, Neotropic Cormorants and Pelicans patrolled offshore, but it was the rocks and the rock pools which attracted us.

We would wait till the turn of the tide to start our searching over the black slippery boulders and we weren’t alone.  This was feeding time in the intertidal zone, two species of birds appeared as if from nowhere, each seeking food from entirely different niches.  Blackish Oystercatchers would probe deep into crevices for shellfish such as oysters.


Pilpilen negro

Pilpilen negro



Whilst the Seaside Cinclodes would almost creep over the rocks, extracting small invertebrates with its narrow slightly de-curved  bill.


Churrete costero

Churrete costero



As the tide receded and more of the rocks appeared so crabs started to emerge from hidden recesses and climb up onto the rocks and graze on the algae.


Un cangrejo come alga

Un cangrejo come alga



At the slightest movement from us the crabs would dart for cover, but if we sat quietly they would approach so close we could eye each other up.


El ojo de un cangrejo

El ojo de un cangrejo

We scrambled with difficulty over the slithery rocks in our searches, peering into the ‘crystal ball’ like pools of water, never knowing what was to be revealed to us. Brightly coloured sea anemones were usually the first to appear, their tentacles waving in the retreating water.  The most common was a small crimson one, but in deeper water there were larger orange ones and another even larger, as blue as the midnight sky.


Sea anemones are predators and we noticed that many tiny animals steered well clear of their waving tentacles, not so this particular small crustacean, no doubt protected by its hard outer covering.


Anemona y crustaceo

Anemona y crustaceo

An even larger crustacean, a type of prawn, hid in the darker recesses of the pools. This animal was simply gorgeous, red and black and studded with bright white and sky blue dots.


Crustaceo hermoso

Crustaceo hermoso

There were a number of sea stars, (they used to be called starfish even though they are not fish at all, but echinoderms). They are amazing animals, each arm of a sea star, if broken off, has the capacity to regenerate itself into a completely new animal.  The biggest we saw had forty arms and was the size of a dinner plate.  The undersides of these animals are covered with thousands of tiny suckers as well as thousands of simple legs but despite the number of legs, sea stars move extremely slowly.


Estrella de mar grande

Estrella de mar grande

A much smaller sea star caught our attention, a purple and green five-armed species.


Estrella de mar morada

Estrella de mar morada

This small sea star moved over the rocks much faster than we would have expected, on occasions when another animal touched it, the sea star would react by flipping up one of its arms.


Estrella de mar y crustaceo

Estrella de mar y crustaceo



 In other pools we found similar sea stars but none moved as this one did.  We continued to watch its antics and after a while the animal started to move its arms about in an erratic way.

This individual seemed as if it simply liked moving about,  as it turned, flipped and bounced.  We had found our own  star, a ‘dancing ‘ sea star!



Un estrella de mar baila

Un estrella de mar baila


Certainly the marine life we found was as rich as we thought it might be, a reflection of the bounty of the Humboldt Current.

As for individualism among animals, maybe after all, the lowliest and smallest of species have characters in their populations and it’s just us humans that do not see or understand the significance of their behaviour.




The Humboldt current

Travelling north on the Chilean coast has reminded us of being on the Hebridean islands off the west of Scotland.


Below is Isla Choros, Chile.



Los Pinquinos

Both places are in remote locations, sometimes difficult to access, giving visitors a sense of isolation, a rare commodity in this overcrowded world.  Both have exotic white beaches and turquoise seas.



White beach

Both places are blessed with sea currents which promote a profusion of marine life around them. The  seas off  the Hebrides are ‘brushed’ by the warm Gulf Stream  and despite being at 58 degrees north one can amazingly find Palm trees on the seashore.


The Chilean coast  has its own ‘marine’ magic wand, the Humboldt current.  The similarities end when comparing both sea currents, the Gulf Stream is a warm current from Mexico which interferes with the cold waters of the arctic, whereas the Humboldt is a cold current flowing from the Antarctic into warm tropical waters.


The Humboldt is an amiable ‘monster’ of a current.  As it flows north it splits into two as it reaches Tierra del Fuego.  One part flows east,up the Argentinean coast.  The other part flows westwards up the Chilean coast –  a 1000 mile wide mass of nutrient rich water.


The importance of the Humboldt first became obvious to us as we were seawatching at La Boca.


michael seawatching



The sea was absolutely teaming with Shearwaters.  Whereas off Western Scotland we were used to seeing  hundreds of Shearwaters in a day,  here we were seeing tens of thousands at any one time, too many to count.


Sooty Shearwaters



Sooty Shearwaters mixed in with  Pink-footed Shearwaters and the occasional Giant Petrel.


Sooty Shearwaters 2



There were great seabird nesting colonies, Pelicans, Peruvian Boobies and Guanay Cormorants .


Cormorant colony



and not only birds, but marine mammals lke Bottlenosed Dolphins


Bottlenose Dolphin 2

and pods of Fin Whales, the second largest mammal on the planet.


Fin Whale 1

The effects of the Humboldt current are truly awesome.


The Chilean coast

We had crossed the Andes from Argentina into Chile and journeyed through its flat, fertile central valley, full of oranges, lemons and rich vineyards.


Then up again into the coastal cordillera from the top of which we could see the whole width of this absurdly thin country.


In front of us now lay the Pacific Ocean.  The air that filled our lungs was different, gone was the dust, now a salty scent enticed us towards the blue vastness.


beach at Constitucion


The narrow winding road led us into the village of Horcon and suddenly were surprised to find ourselves at a tiny harbour full of wooden fishing boats.



We had crossed the continent of South America and there, as if to greet us, was a Pelican !


Pelicans bill 2

In this part of the world wherever there are fish and fishermen there will likely be Pelicans and Gulls and this village was no exception.


Coastal fishing nets



Over the next few weeks we gradually moved south along the coast and found that three species of gull were the most common.

Firstly the Kelp Gull –


Kelp Gull

Then the Brown-hooded Gull –


Brown-hooded Gull

And finally the Franklins Gull, although this is a migrant species from North America.


Franklin's Gull



There were few wading birds, except small numbers of Blackish Oystercatcher which are resident all year round.


Blackish Oystercatcher