Mysterious sea star wasting syndrome spreads to public aquariums in Washington State, killing hundreds of creatures
Millions of sea stars have vanished from the West Coast over the past year, affecting habitats ranging from Alaska all the way to Mexico, with some deaths even detected off the East Coast.
Perhaps one of the most peculiar facts about the event is that both wild and captive sea stars are succumbing to what researchers refer to as "wasting syndrome," a condition that causes the sea stars' limbs to contort unnaturally, form lesions and eventually tear off, leaving the animal fatally deflated.
Dozens of marine biologists from reputable aquariums and other institutions across the United States and parts of Mexico are scrambling for answers, unable to do anything but theorize about what could be causing the massive die-offs.
"We're trying really hard but it's a really complicated puzzle to put together because there's no real foundation (of knowledge about) the sea stars, so it's hard to tell what's normal," said Lesanna Lahner, a staff engineer at the Seattle Aquarium.
Scientists are completely stumped over the massive die-off of star fish
Some experts have blamed radiation from Fukushima, whose effects were predicted to hit the West Coast this year, while others suggest that warming sea waters could be contributing to the sea star's susceptibility to a mysterious pathogen.
Another interesting, and quite puzzling, fact is that the sunflower and ochre sea stars seem to be plagued with the disease more severely than rubbery-bodied starfish, according to a report by the The Bellingham Herald.
Both leather and blood starfish have a rubbery outer coating that's seemingly acting as a protectant against the disease. While these types of starfish aren't completely resilient, they're apparently more resistant than the fleshy-bodied sea stars.
Unlike other starfish, the leather sea star doesn't have spines. They have small, feathery sacks used for respiration in each arm. They also don't have blood, but instead use seawater to pump nutrients around their bodies.
More than 50 percent of captive sea stars die at Washington aquarium
Washington's Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium has lost more than half of their 369 sea stars to wasting syndrome, including all of their sunflower starfish.
"We have to suspect that it's causing pain even though we don't know (for certain)," said Lahner.
Biologists are monitoring the animals that begin to show arthritis-like symptoms, an indication of the syndrome, quarantining them in a back room where the water is more filtered.
Starfish are what's known as "keystone" species in the ocean, built so sensitively into their ecosystems that their demise could wreak havoc for other marine animals.
"(Sea stars) are such a key player in keeping our ecosystem healthy," added Lahner. "We depend upon a healthy ecosystem for a variety of things like commercial fishing and recreational activities."
Experts say mussels, one of the sea star's most desired foods, are growing exponentially, which could result in the mussels overtaking "less hardy species."
This isn't the first time wasting syndrome has been observed. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, researchers saw a similar phenomenon, but the die-offs weren't occurring anywhere near the scale at which they are today.
The disease struck so quickly in the past that, by the time the outbreaks were noticed, they were over, said Lahner.
Some aquariums are using antibiotics to treat starfish suffering from wasting syndrome; however, the move has attracted controversy.
"It's a broad spectrum antibiotic so it's either killing the primary infection or a secondary infection as a result of the disease," Lahner said. "Some are worried that treating the sea stars could create a resistant superbug."
Antibiotics have seemingly slowed the disease but aren't curing it.
"Initially you don't know what's going on," said Neil Allen, curator of aquatics at the Tacoma aquarium.
"You don't know which ones are sick and which ones aren't. Their arms get contorted. It looks like they have arthritis and once we see that, we know they're affected."
Written by Julie Wilson
Featured image: Point Walpole Sea Star by Mack Lundy (CC – Flickr)
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Please stop quoting Suspicious Observer. The maunder minimum hype is based upon circumstantial evidence, ignores the role of major volcanism and today as I speak the sunspot total, (the corner stone for Maunder theory) is at 50 spots. That’s pretty low… however SORCE irradiance satellite puts the irradiance way above the solar constant 1362.2 watts/M2. Sunspots don’t heat the Earth. Irradiance does. With admitting the magnetosphere is weakening, how anybody can say the sun is causing ice age is a complete contradiction in itself.
Lastly, oceans are at record warm temperatures…. let’s just ignore all of that. Temperature anomaly map proves how hot our shallows and tidal pools have become. Let’s ignore all of that shall we. UK just had a starfish die off as well.
I smell Fukushima.
It must be fukushima incident effects, (Radiation) "Millions of sea stars have vanished from the West Coast over the past year, affecting habitats ranging from Alaska all the way to Mexico, with some deaths even detected off the East Coast." what else, could it be, west coast of USA and Mexico, curious…
I was struck by the association to the die off of bamboo species that die at the same time all around the world. Panda that depend on the bamboo die as well. It seems only yesterday starfish were in the news by becoming overly abundant and attacking shell fish.
We appear to be headed for conditions similar to the Maunder Minimum, says this video from Suspicious0bservers. This low in solar activity comes after what was likely the highest solar activity in the last 3,000 years.
Here are a few observations from the video:
The primary concern is famine.
•In the 1630s, two million people died due to famine in India.
•At about the same time, huge portions of Europe developed famines, including Poland, Ireland, England, France.
•In the early 1660s, India went two years without a single drop of rain.
•In 1680, famine killed 80,000 people in Sardinia.
•A famine in the 1690s killed 15 percent of the Scottish population.
•Two million dead in France during that same period.
•During the same decade, more than 100,000 peopole died in Sweden and Estonia.
•At the turn of the century, two million more people died of famine in India.
•Just a few years later, Eastern Prussia lost 40 percent of its population to famine.
Look at the chart in this video to see how quickly the climate changed. We are currently experiencing changes even faster than those.
The harsh winters like 2010 in Europe, or 2013 in North America, will become more prevalent, the video continues.