Mystery: Starfish turn to ‘slime’ along Pacific coast — “We’re talking about a loss of millions and millions” — Compared to medieval ‘Black Death’ — Innards become exposed and fall apart — Cases ballooning in Alaska (VIDEO)
November 7th, 2013
Reuters, Nov. 5, 2013: Mysterious disease turning starfish to ‘slime’ on U.S. West Coast [...] ravaging starfish in record numbers along the U.S. West Coast [...] “It’s pretty spooky because we don’t have any obvious culprit [...]” said Pete Raimondi, chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California at Santa Cruz’s Long Marine Lab. [...] Starfish have suffered from the syndrome on and off for decades but have usually been reported in small numbers, isolated to southern California and linked to a rise in seawater temperatures, which is not the case this time, Raimondi said. Since June, wasting starfish have been found in dozens of coastal sites ranging from south-east Alaska to Orange County, California, and the mortality rates have been higher than ever seen before, Raimondi said. [...]
Guardian, Nov. 5, 2013: “Their tissue just melts away,” said Melissa Miner, a biologist and researcher with the Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network, a group of government agencies, universities and non-profit groups that monitor tidal wildlife and environment along the west coast. Miner, based in Washington state, has studied wasting starfish locally and in Alaska since June, when only a few cases had been reported. “It has ballooned into a much bigger issue since then,” she said.
TIME, Nov. 5, 2013: It’s normal for a tiny portion of starfish populations to suffer from so-called “wasting syndrome.” [...] But the disease is typically isolated to one or two starfish among hundreds in a rocky tide pool. And even in bad cases, it rarely stretches beyond a single population. “The spatial extent is unprecedented,” says Pete Raimondi [...] “If it’s as extensive as it looks like it is, then we’re talking about a loss of millions and millions.” [...] [Though they] often recover from the lesions, infections on the West Coast are proving lethal. [...] starfish generally have the ability to grow new arms, in these cases wounds don’t heal and innards become exposed as the animal falls apart. [...]
KCET, Nov. 5, 2013: [S]cientists aren’t sure whether that bacterium causes the disease or just comes along for the ride. And the extent of this disease outbreak, along thousands of miles of coast, has them worried. [...] Previous outbreaks of wasting disease had been linked to warmer ocean water during El Niño events, but this year’s epidemic seems to be happening in places where the water has been colder [...] At least 10 species have been found suffering from the illness [...] “this mortality rate is every bit as bad as some villages that were virtually wiped out by the medieval Black Death,” [U.C. Santa Cruz researcher Allison Gong] writes.
Yet one scientist sees the situation quite differently than the rest
CBS Los Angeles, Nov. 4, 2013: “There is no indication that it has any connection to anything other than a natural occurrence; it is following a pattern that we’ve seen before,” [Mike Schaadt, Director of the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro] said. “So there’s no indication that this has some other connection.”