MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) — Over the past several weeks, huge amounts of starfish have washed up along the coast in Myrtle Beach and marine biologists say there’s a reason why.

“We’ve had starfish, or sea stars as some groups call them, on the beaches before but not to this degree,” said Duke Brown, the Beach Safety Director for the Horry County Police Department. “It’s been very unusual with the numbers that we’ve seen this summer.”

There’s been so many that it’s caught the attention of visitors and locals.

“We’ve been here over 20 years and have never ever seen what we saw now, it’s awesome, there’s less shells but there’s a new thing…starfish,” said residents of Myrtle Beach, Dan and Louann Perlman.

It’s had those people asking why this is happening. Juli Harding with Coastal Carolina University’s Marine Science Department said it’s due to several factors.

“What we’re seeing might be related to the relatively warm winter that we had, the sustained onshore wind, the relatively warm water we have had near the coast this summer, or a combination of all of these as well as local bottom topography. A warmer winter might mean more of last year’s seastars survived for this year and/or more young seastars were born this spring.  Either scenario would give us more seastars locally,” said Harding.

Harding also said the warmer ocean water could cause less predators being in the waters to eat the starfish.

“The relatively warm water early this summer might have created a situation where things that eat seastars but don’t like water as warm as what we have near the coast may have either come by earlier this year (when the water was cooler), be staying offshore (where the water is a little bit cooler now), or have grown quickly and started eating other larger prey.  A lack of predators would reduce the number of seastars being eaten, also resulting in more seastars available to wash on shore,” said Harding.

Brown said he’s been here 55 years and has never seen anything like this.

“Hurricanes, tropical storms at low tides that pass through here, we’ll see a lot of different animals or objects wash up on the beaches. I’ve seen the starfish during that time frame but not to the degree that we’ve seen without having some major tropical problems,” said Brown.

Professor Harding said there doesn’t need to be a tropical storm for this to happen, it just takes a combination of wind and tide.

“The seastars may get caught in the currents and brought onshore if they are walking around on the sand or, if the currents and waves are strong enough, they could get excavated. Once they have been carried by the current into the surf zone, the seastars can’t get back out past the breaking waves and they wash onshore. Our winds have been onshore the last couple of days, particularly in the late afternoon on the incoming tide,” said Harding.

With the vast amounts of starfish, people are stopping to pick them up but Brown says to be careful with them.

“They wash up, they may look dead but there’s a good chance they’re very much alive so look at them, feel them, and put them back in the water we’d greatly appreciate it,” said Brown.