Where have all the stars gone?

Seen any stars in B.C. lately?

No, I’m not talking about the ones you see when you look up at the night sky, or the ones you see when you open a ‘People Magazine’. I’m talking about sea stars. If you haven’t seen many in British Columbia for a while, that’s because things aren’t going particularly well for the sea stars.

What’s going on!?

la-sci-sn-sea-star-wasting-syndrome-virus-foun-001

Slowly decomposing sea star. Image source: http://www.latimes.com

In the beginning of 2013, vast populations of starfish began dying off mysteriously on the west coast of North America, primarily in British Columbia and Washington waters. Several species of sea stars were being reported to be slowly decomposing, with their limbs detaching from their central body, or disc. What was the cause? Sea Star Wasting Syndrome (or Starfish Wasting Syndrome).

Sea Star Wasting Syndrome

The cause of Sea Star Wasting Syndrome is a mystery. There have been several past events where mass die-offs of sea stars have been reported: 1972 on the east coast, 1978 in California, and the most recent event beginning in 2013 and spreading from Alaska down to the Gulf of Mexico.

What’s Being Done?

Scientists are working to try and identify a cause for these massive die-offs of sea stars, but the disease still remains poorly understood. The media has taken the issue into their hands, blaming sources such as Fukushima radiation; however, no evidence to back up this lofty claim exists. Recent research is showing that the likely culprit may be a densovirus (SSaDV), but even though this appears to be a likely candidate, the ultimate cause of the outbreak remains unclear.

Now What?…

starfish-face-extinction

Scientists are working hard to try and identify the cause of the disease. Here a diver does surveys in Oregon. Image source: http://www.inhabitat.com

Seeing as it is still a bit of a mystery, it’s not entirely clear what the future holds for our little sea stars. Links to elevated temperatures due to climate change are thought to be a factor in the most recent outbreak, leading to the possibility that this disease is only just getting started as climate change carries on. There are thoughts within the scientific community that the disease may begin to jump to other species of echinoderms as well such as sea urchins and sea cucumbers.

The moral of the story is we need more research. We need to more completely understand the cause of what is killing off sea stars along the coast. You can help too! Scientists are trying to track the outbreak, so if you discover any stars that appear to be suffering from the disease, report them here.

Godspeed little stars…

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Follow the author on Twitter:

@SteveHealy4

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