National Geographic: Newly discovered mass mortality in sea creatures along California coast — Body parts falling off, animals ‘wasting away’ — Researchers fear sea star epidemic is spreading

Tuesday, April 7, 2015
By Paul Martin
April 7th, 2015

Smithsonian, Apr 6, 2015: Urchins Could Be the Next Victim of Sea Star Wasting Disease… millions of sea stars along North America’s Pacific coast met a grisly end when a virus rotted their bodies into lumps of white goo… scientists fear that greater consequences of this “wasting disease” are already at play. And the sickness may be spreading even further, as evidenced by the sea stars’ spikey cousin: the urchin… In southern California… ecologists worry that the sea urchins could now be catching the same ailment.

Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Program, Mar. 13, 2015: Disease has also been seen in urchins in some locations… In the last few months urchin disease symptoms have been reported in southern California and Baja California.

Tweet from National Geographic, Apr 1, 2015: Now urchins are wasting away off California, in addition to sea stars… as the fallout from sea star disease ripples along the California coast.

National Geographic, Apr. 1, 2015 (emphasis added): As Sea Stars Die, New Worries About Urchins… in southern California, urchins are losing their spines and dying… [T]he mass mortalities… are newly discovered phenomena that appear to be connected to a die-off of sea stars… [In] pockets from Santa Barbara to Baja California, urchins’ spines are falling out, leaving a circular patch that loses more spines and enlarges with time, marine scientists say… “We think that there’s a wasting event going on with urchins,” says Peter Raimondi, an ecology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “It is by no means as rapid as the sea star wasting… But we do see it in multiple sites. And when we do see it, we see it in a lot of animals.”… scientists revealed a virus active in marine ecosystems for seven decades had suddenly flourished, although no one at this point understands why… biologists have suggested that the virus may have evolved, becoming an extra-potent slayer… Most are purple urchins, Raimondi says, and there are reports of mass mortalities… “There are particular signs that point to this being a wasting event, the way the animals are dying,” Raimondi says. The most common kinds of California urchins—purple, red, and white—are losing their spines, and the leading edge of spine loss is often discolored… markers indicate that sea urchins in southern California are now in a wasting event, Raimondi says… south coast urchins are doing poorly… losing spines and going bald. Researchers fear that sea star wasting disease has spread to urchins.

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