two people talk and look at baby sea stars
Hearst Media Production Group
Wild Kingdom co-host Rae Wynn-Grant, left, and Jason Hodin in the FHL sea star rearing lab during the show’s filming.

The work of UW Friday Harbor Laboratories’ Jason Hodin, a research scientist who manages the sunflower sea star rearing lab, recently was featured on the NBC show “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild.”

In the show’s ninth episode, which aired on NBC in late January and is available online, co-hosts Peter Gros and Rae Wynn-Grant explore the recent plight of the Pacific Ocean’s kelp forests — and what’s being done to save them.

Before a devastating wasting disease took hold in 2013, sunflower sea stars were common from Baja California, Mexico, to Alaska and were important predators, especially for purple sea urchins. Now, with most of the sunflower sea star population gone, sea urchins have multiplied and are feeding on, and decimating, kelp forests.

The Wild Kingdom episode features Hodin’s lab, which has been raising sunflower sea stars in captivity since 2019, with the goal eventually to release healthy stars into the wild. This could help restore more balance to the ecosystem, ultimately benefiting the important kelp forests.

“One of the main goals of this program is to repopulate areas where they’ve disappeared, like in California, and protect the kelp down there,” Hodin said in the episode.

Watch scenes from Hodin’s lab at Friday Harbor and his interview, beginning around 14:29 in this episode. In the short clip below, “Wild Kingdom” co-host Rae Wynn-Grant visits the lab at UW FHL where scientists are raising sunflower sea stars. 

Video credit: Hearst Media Production Group

Learn more about how to support the UW FHL sea star rearing research.