Scientists puzzled about mysterious disease killing starfish off U.S. West Coast

February 10, 2014ECOLOGY - A puzzling “wasting disease” first observed along the west coast of the United States in June 2013 continues to kill millions of starfish. The gruesome disease causes the creatures to rot–and to rip their own limbs off. As one biology professor told PBS Newshour, two infected starfish he was observing “started ripping themselves apart. The arms just crawl away from the particular body.” Laura James, a diver and videographer from Seattle, Wash., and one of the first to notice starfish with the disease, described a recent dive to Newshour. “There were just bodies everywhere,” James said. “And they were just like splats. To me, it always looked like somebody had taken a laser gun and just zapped them and they just vaporized….We have had now occasional die-offs here and there, but it’s not like this. It’s not a mass mortality event.” Biologists aren’t sure what is causing the mysterious disease, which has now affected 12 starfish species. Pete Raimondi of the University of California, Santa Cruz, said he believes the starfish wasting disease is likely caused by a pathogen in the form of a parasite, virus or bacteria. One theory about the source of such a pathogen is that it came from the ballast water of foreign ships, as the disease has largely appeared along major shipping routes. Other theories for the cause of the starfish die-off include ocean acidification, warming ocean water making starfish more susceptible to infection and even radiation from the 2011 Fukushima power plant disaster.
While the starfish wasting disease cause remains mysterious, one thing is quite clear: the disease is unbelievably deadly. With a mortality rate of 95 percent, the disease has completely killed off entire starfish populations in Puget Sound, off the coast of Washington, and in coastal areas along California.  Starfish are a keystone species, eating everything from mussels to clams to crab (and even other starfish). Because they eat so voraciously, starfish have a major impact on ocean ecosystems. Subsequently, when millions of starfish are wiped out, it can have a major effect. “These are ecologically important species,” said Drew Harvell, a marine epidemiologist at Cornell University. “To remove them changes the entire dynamics of the marine ecosystem. When you lose this many sea stars it will certainly change the seascape underneath our waters.” –IST
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17 Responses to Scientists puzzled about mysterious disease killing starfish off U.S. West Coast

  1. Dennis E. says:

    Another mysterious disease. Like the one killing the bee population. I wonder if this a shingles type inflection. Are the starfish itching to death or is it an attack on their central nervous system?

    Since we are talking about the west coast, I keep reading reports about the radiation coming from Japan’s damaged Nuclear Reactor arriving on the west coast. Star fish deaths may be their least concern.

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  2. Anna says:

    radiation, if garbage can float from Japan well then so can the fall out .

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  3. Irene C says:

    Of course, my first thought was Fukushima, but you rarely hear that possibility coming from the media.

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  4. upaces88 says:

    More than likely, it is the radiation poisoning due to the Japan disaster.

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  5. Ernestisms says:

    Hi Alvin, great work as always! As I read the article I could not help but think of the “canary in the coalmine analogy. I personally believe this is related to the March 2011 disaster in Tokyo. Keep in mind that the “leak” that is often referenced at the NPP is estimated at more than 400 tons of radioactive waste water a day! ….this event has been going on for more than a 1000 days….The water contains Cesium & Strontium among others and at levels significantly higher than what TEPCO has indicated and is creating quite the witches brew in the Pacific and by extension, all over the globe. Now, almost 3 years removed from the disaster, we are starting to see many strange anomalies like 2 headed gray whales being born, anchovies almost completely disappearing from the normal migration patterns, and almost every other creature in the ocean exhibiting behaviors that are inconsistent with what we know to be their natural patterns as we know them. Sailors are reporting the eery quiet of the oceans as they appear to be increasingly devoid of life. I believe that we may be on the front end of an ELE. This is the China syndrome movie come to life.

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  6. niebo says:

    According to Wiki, starfish are found in the fossil record as far back as 450 million years, and they live and thrive all over the world. (Pathogens in the ballast water of foreign ships? Really?) Since this is a new, recent phenomenon in a really old invertebrate, my suspicion is that the cause is less a generic “pathogen” than a specific nuclear reactor meltdown.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starfish

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  7. Brimmer79 says:

    I feel all arrows point to Fukushima, just my opinion. The coast of BC was having similar issues recently. I’m not any sort of scientist, but this is all happening around the supposed timeline that the contaminated water from Fukushima is reaching American coastlines. My 2+2 seems to add up to 4.

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  8. Buddy says:

    How about Looking into fukashima radiation in the pacific waters ?

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  9. Anni says:

    I am no scientist, but I am betting that the deaths are because of the radiation from Fukushima?

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  10. zeolite says:

    Since it happened while radiation is elevated in that part of the ocean, it seems pretty obvious that there may be a connection. It makes sense from what we know about nuclear radiation effects upon living beings.

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  11. cptnemo7029 says:

    Can anyone say Fukushima,?

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  12. hotstuff says:

    Kudos to everyone who connects the starfish die-off with the Fukushima disaster. You are among the 5% of the population who “gets it” w/regard to Fukushima radiation poisoning the Pacific. Too bad the other 95% has been held in the dark by the corporate-owned media. Shame on them.

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  13. Rick Walsh says:

    I checked on our local population of starfish on Feb. 12, 2014. The starfish on the Harford Pier in San Luis Obispo, Central Coast California, are gone. There were hundreds if not thousands, now I only saw one and it looked sick. I also noted a lack of red rock crab, which is not normal.

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    • shriram says:

      Yes crabs are also dying. Large amount of crabs has already died in UK and all over the globe. They have the same problem of getting infected by virus which is new and over active.. I have already mentioned ,why these new viruses are coming up and against which the specie just cannot survive as it’s innate immunity is not sufficient. In case of vertebrates god has gifted them with the adoptive also. So for them better chances for getting recovered. we had lost the star fishes is the truth and no body can save them now.

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  14. L.Edwards says:

    There is definitely something catastrophic coming. I don’t know when, but it’s soon. Society in general has this air about it that screams “We’re invincible!” and they’re oblivious to how fragile we really are. That’s usually when the worst happens. Hubris before a fall.

    Given the amount of extreme dangerous weather that’s been happening for the past few years, I can definitely say that Earth is most likely attempting to shake off the fleas.

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  15. jeff guy says:

    Having an understanding of intact biosphere activity , and the failures which occur due to pressure applied ie. temperature, pollutants, toxic amounts of nutrients. When we have unrealistic expectations and continue to deny how toxic we are as a species, we lose our biosphere. Wake up and support a planet near you……..

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