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Sea stars wasting away

Sea stars along California’s coast are being ravaged by a wasting disease that strikes quickly and is deadly. Signs and symptoms of the disease first appeared during summer on both the East and West Coast of the United States and sightings of the disease are also being reported worldwide.

“The Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Program at UC-Santa Cruz has received reports of sea star wasting disease from Southeast Alaska to as far south as Orange County, California,” said CMA Director Mike Schaadt. “We’ve even had cases of it here at the Aquarium in two ochre sea stars we recently collected from Outer Cabrillo Beach.”

Sea star wasting disease (also referred to as sea star wasting syndrome) could just as easily be called sea star vanishing disease. Typically, the disease first appears as white lesions on sea stars; then the tissue surrounding lesions quickly begins to decay and ultimately disintegrates. Photos documenting the disease show sea stars with entire arms that have simply vanished. After catching the disease, a sea star usually dies within a few days.

“While similar occurrences have happened in the past, the scope and severity of this sea star wasting disease is alarming, especially since scientists haven’t been able to determine what’s causing it or how it spreads,” said Schaadt. “In some areas where the disease has been found, the local sea star populations have been devastated. So far the only common factor between sites is warmer water temperatures before the onset of the disease.”

Scientists across the country are working hard to discover the source of this mysterious disease. Past outbreaks on the West Coast were traced to bacteria, while a recent East Coast wasting disease was linked to a virus. Ten species of sea stars have been impacted and it could be years before populations recover. It’s also not clear how their absence will impact the rest of the ocean ecosystem.

For more detailed information on sea star wasting syndrome, visit UC-Santa Cruz’s Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Program website.

Photo by Nate Fletcher


Post Date: Wednesday, November 13, 2013

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