Showing posts tagged as "sea stars"
Sea star populations along the Pacific Coast from southern California to Alaska are dying due to a disease outbreak called “wasting syndrome.” Learn more in our latest podcast.
Nature provides amazing animals that rival any holiday decoration, don’t you think? We just added crinoid feather stars to our giant Pacific octopus exhibit. These relatives of sea stars hold onto the rocky bottom and feed on tiny organisms using their arms.
Sea star populations along the Pacific Coast from southern California to Alaska are dying in massive numbers due to a disease outbreak called “wasting syndrome.” If a sea star becomes infected, it will develop lesions, lose bits of arms or entire arms, then disintegrate into a gooey mass. At least 10 species are vulnerable, and up to 95 percent of populations in some tide pools have died.
Scientists—including Aquarium staff—are working hard to determine a cause. It could be environmental factors, a virus or bacteria. Wasting syndrome actually describes a set of symptoms apparently with no universal cause. In the past, warmer ocean waters have appeared to contribute, but this isn’t an El Niño year. According to our veterinarian, Dr. Mike Murray, it’s less likely to be an infection that’s spreading than it is a variety of factors that are contributing to separate outbreaks.
Our animals affected
Unfortunately we’ve lost some animals in our exhibits and seen firsthand the rapid progress of “wasting syndrome” in affected animals. We’re also taking steps to limit further infection in our sea star collection. The good news is that the problem is limited to sea stars. As far as we know, there’s no indication it could pose any concern for human health. At the Aquarium, it doesn’t seem to be affecting other echinoderms like sea urchins and sea cucumbers – just sea stars.
UC Santa Cruz’s Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Program has been collecting data on sea star deaths since June, after Washington’s Olympic National Park found up to a quarter of its sea stars were diseased. Our colleagues at Seattle Aquarium and Vancouver Aquarium, as well as our own veterinary medical staff, are also involved. Our own Dr. Mike is particularly involved as a member of the research team conducting the investigation into what’s causing the disease and current outbreak.
It may be part of a larger problem. The sea stars’ decline may have serious consequences for the ocean’s diversity. One example? The purple sea star eats mussels, which might otherwise crowd out other species on the rocky shore.