The Starfish Story

“There was a young man walking down a deserted beach just before dawn. In the distance he saw a frail old man. As he approached the old man, he saw him picking up stranded starfish and throwing them back into the sea. The young man gazed in wonder as the old man again and again threw the small starfish from the sand to the water.

He asked, 'Old man, why do you spend so much energy doing what seems to be a waste of time?' The old man explained that the stranded starfish would die if left in the morning sun. 'But there must be thousands of beaches and millions of starfish!' exclaimed the young man. 'How can you make any difference?'

The old man looked at the small starfish in his hand and as he threw it to the safety of the sea, he said, 'It makes a difference to this one!'”

By Loren Eiseley (1907–1977)
Published in 1969 in
The Unexpected Universe. The Star Thrower is also the title of a 1978 anthology of Eiseley's works (including the essay), which he completed shortly before his death.