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Monday, November 4, 2013

Diseased Starfish Disintegrating Along the West Coast

Posted By on Mon, Nov 4, 2013 at 8:07 AM

click to enlarge Pretty ... pretty sick - WIKIMEDIA/THEMARGUE
  • Wikimedia/TheMargue
  • Pretty ... pretty sick

Starfish -- the marine animal that is actually not a fish -- are mysteriously meeting their death along the West Coast in frequent numbers, and marine scientists are aren't sure who or what to blame.

According to the Press Democrat, mangled starfish are popping up from Alaska to Southern California, sickened by a disease that causes them to lose their arms and disintegrate.

"They essentially melt in front of you," Pete Raimondi, chairman of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at University of California, Santa Cruz's Long Marine Lab, told The Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

The starfish are reportedly dying from "sea star wasting disease," a sickness that causes white lesions to develop on the animals, causing them to turn into "goo." However, scientists do not know what's causing the disease. According to the newspaper, the disease has decimated about 95 percent of a particular starfish species living in tide pool populations along the West Coast, including San Francisco.

click to enlarge A map of where this madness is happening - PACIFIC ROCKY INTERTIDAL MONITORING
  • Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring
  • A map of where this madness is happening

In September, starfish in an aquarium at the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary visitor center in San Francisco reportedly died from wasting disease after water was pumped in from the ocean.

It's happened before, but never to this extent, scientists say; In 1983, wasting disease hit Southern California but remained localized. Typically, the disease affects only one species, Pisaster ochraceus -- the an orange-and-purple (pretty!) starfish that grows up to 20 inches wide and is a staple of West Coast tide pools.

As with any other ecological disruption, this could have a domino effect in the Ocean. According to the Associated Press, Starfish dine on mussels, so scientists worry that a collapse in the Pisaster population will allow mussels to multiply -- unchecked -- pushing out other species.

Steven Morgan, an environmental science professor at the Bodega Marine Laboratory at the University of California, Davis, has found emaciated sea stars on the rocks at Schoolhouse Beach north of Bodega Bay, but said he has no idea if wasting syndrome was the culprit.

"None of us had ever seen anything like this before," he told the AP.


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About The Author

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert

Bio:
Erin Sherbert has been Online News Editor for SF Weekly since 2010. She's a Texas native and has a closet full of cowboy boots to prove it.

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