Starfish Turning to Goo from Disease

On the western coast of North America (California to Alaska), a disease is revenging starfish populations.  They are developing lesions on their bodies and are quickly disintegrating as quickly as a matter of hours.  They are turning into what is described as ‘white goo’.  Scientists are currently unsure if the disease, now dubbed “Sea Star Wasting Syndrome”.  It could be viral, bacterial, or environmentally caused from increased water temperature.

Starfish have been observed in the ocean, in the lab, under controlled conditions, and even in ideal environmental conditions, but most specimens have died.  It is also clear that it is infectious and communicable.  It is easy passed from species to species.

The die-off is mostly affecting the purple seastar (Pisaster ochraeceus). This species is a keystone predator species, and is super important to the food chain of tide pools.   They eat the mussels that could easy overrun other animals that live in that habitat.  The disease was noticed by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  Researchers are have estimated that millions of starfish could be lost.  They have also set up a tracking map to monitor starfish health trends.  (Link to another map with other species affected.)

The outbreak was first noticed in the waters around West Vancouver, British Columbia in September when a marine biologist noticed sunflower sea stars (Pycnopodia helianthoides) with missing limbs.  Photographs were taken and possible reasons were outlined on Echnioblog, a blog dedicated to marine invertebrates.

The disease has caused great concern and the potential loss of the starfish is a huge lost to the world.  They are endemic to the coastlines of areas like California and are a cultural icon.  It would be a great lost to the cultural and natural history of the areas where they live.

News Sources:

Time: Falling Stars: Starfish Dying From “Disintegrating” Disease via Yahoo News: Starfish Are Turning INto Goo, But Scientists Don’t Know Whyst

NBC News: What’s eating the starfish? Mystery rot threatens populations on both coasts

Science World Report: Scientists Plagued by ‘Star Wasting Disease’: Turns West Coasts into ‘Goo’ (Video) 

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