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(Based on The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley)

A friend of ours was walking down a deserted Mexican beach at sunset. As he walked along, he began to see another man in the distance. As he grew closer, he noticed that the local native kept leaning down, picking something up, and throwing it out into the water. Time and again he kept hurling things out into the ocean. As our friend approached even closer, he noticed that the man was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time, he was throwing them back into the water. Our friend was puzzled. He approached the man and said "Good evening, Friend. I was wondering what you are doing."

"I'm throwing these starfish back into the ocean. You see, it's low tide right now and all of these starfish have been washed up onto the shore. If I don't throw them back into the sea, they'll die up here from lack of oxygen."

"I understand," our friend replied, "but there must be thousands of starfish on this beach. You can't possibly get to all of them. There are simply too many. And don't you realize it is probably happening on hundreds of other beaches all up and down the coast. Can't you see that you can't possibly make a difference?"

The local native smiled, bent down, and picked up yet another starfish, and as he threw it back into the sea, he replied, "Made a difference to that one!"

from Chicken Soup for the SoulChicken Soup for the Soul

This story was originally told by Loren Eiseley in The Star ThrowerThe Star Thrower

Background on the history of this story and its many appearances and versions.

The Brittlestar "sees" in all directions
Ananova August 22, 2001 from Press Release

A spidery relative of the starfish has turned its entire body into an all-seeing eye, scientists revealed today. Researchers have discovered microscopic crystals built into the external skeleton of the brittlestar Ophiocoma wendtii which act as eyes. Each crystal is a near-perfect lens far smaller than anything made by human technology. Arrays of the crystals form a kind of compound eye which covers the creature's whole body, making it able to "see" in all directions. The extraordinary visual system is the first of its kind to be discovered in any animal inhabiting the earth today.

Brittlestars have five thin long flexible arms joined to a small disc-like body. They are echinoderms, related to sea urchins, sea cucumbers and starfish.

The Israeli and US scientists behind the discovery believe copying the creature's microscopic lenses could be useful in optical computing and lithography.

Previous work had shown that this species of brittlestar was particularly sensitive to light and able to change colour. Even though the animals had no specialised eyes, they were somehow able to detect shadows and quickly escape from predators into dark crevices.

Dr Gordon Hendler, from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, was the man who first suspected that the creature might be an all-seeing-eye but it took him and other researchers ten years to prove it.

A gallery of Starfish pictures

Funny footnote:
I have a large seashell collection, which I keep scattered on beaches all over the world . - Steven Wright

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