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Their arms crawl away in opposite directions and their insides spill out
January 31, 2014 5:55 PM   Subscribe

Mysterious epidemic devastates starfish population off the Pacific Coast. Although the die-off was first noticed in Washington state, the epidemic now ranges from southern California all the way north to Alaska. Scientists call it Sea Star Wasting Syndrome and efforts are underway to monitor the spread of this disease. Although this alarming trend seems to correlate with warmer-than-normal temperatures, scientists are not sure what is causing it.
posted by Ostara (25 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm not well versed in my marine biology or nuclear physics, but would the radiation leakage from Fukushima have anything to do with that? Starfish are pretty sensitive creatures aren't they?

Edit: Okey doke, looks like someone in the comments said they already tested for that particular radiation.
posted by honor the agreement at 6:04 PM on January 31


Three Reasons Why Fukushima Radiation Has Nothing to Do with Starfish Wasting Syndrome

Starfish Wasting Disease/Syndrome (SWD/SWS) pre-Dates Fukushima by 3 to 15 years.

Starfish Wasting Syndrome Occurs on the East Coast as well as the Pacific.

No other life in these regions seems to have been affected.

posted by Drinky Die at 6:10 PM on January 31 [5 favorites]


Oh, god. First bees, then bats, then frogs, then monarch butterflies, then moose, then starfish...

This is so sad.
posted by whistle pig at 6:11 PM on January 31 [14 favorites]


Wasn't there a plague of starfish killing the coral reefs? It's never good to have a population crash, but this particular population might have grown too big and is now in some kind of natural die back.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:18 PM on January 31 [3 favorites]


Please tell me starfish can't feel pain.. So sad.
posted by loquat at 6:19 PM on January 31


All starfish go to heaven.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:22 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Gah, hearing that starfish arms crawl apart and rip themselves in half makes me want to crawl apart and rip myself in half. Maybe that's how this is spreading, just the sheer horror of it.
posted by jamaro at 6:33 PM on January 31 [11 favorites]


This is horrifying.
posted by brundlefly at 6:36 PM on January 31


We'll is this manmade, or some naturally-occurring epidemic? If it's the former, then it sucks. If it's the latter, then it's just as natural as wildfires.

It does sound pretty nasty though.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:06 PM on January 31


I suppose we'll find out the cause(s) in time. Whatever it is, as a kid who spent a fair amount of time poking around tidepools on the central Oregon coast, this breaks my heart.
posted by wallabear at 7:23 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


So, I volunteer at the Seattle Aquarium, and I've been spending the last few months fielding questions about this. Here's what we've been told, and are passing along to visitors and interested parties.

1. This has happened before. It was first identified in the eighties, occurred again in the nineties, and is happening for a third time now. What's concerning about this flare-up is that sheer scope of it; it's occurring over a much wider area than it did in the previous two outbreaks.

2. We don't know what's causing it, but several labs all over the country are working hard and expect to have results in a few months. At the moment, the smart money's on some kind of bacterial infection.

3. It really - and I saw that comments saying it upthread, but I must emphasize this - really, really does not have anything at all to do with Fukushima. That's not supposed to start really hitting us until this summer.

If you want to help, and you live in affected areas, go to the beach and look for dying sea stars. Document what you see and use one of the many methods available to you to alert your local aquarium. Be sure to tell them how many you saw, where you saw them, and include pictures even if you're completely certain of the species.

This is actually very, very worrying. Sea stars are a keystone species; without them, mussels take over the rocky shores and crowd out everything else. It's not exactly time to panic, but it is time to help out if you can spare it.
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 7:34 PM on January 31 [36 favorites]


We'll is this manmade, or some naturally-occurring epidemic? If it's the former, then it sucks. If it's the latter, then it's just as natural as wildfires.

We're well into the Anthropocene era. I'm not sure it's even possible to distinguish between natural and manmade anymore, since there are very few inputs into the ecosystem we don't affect profoundly. Solar flares and plate tectonics maybe, and as the ice sheets melt and the seas expand, don't be so sure about the latter.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:38 PM on January 31 [10 favorites]


I couldn't believe it when I heard this story on the drive home yesterday: I was on the freeway, trying to not die from maniacs, and I started to goddamn cry when they got to the part about the starfish literally pulling themselves apart.
posted by rtha at 7:40 PM on January 31


PATRICK!
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:42 PM on January 31


Power Tie She Capitalist: We were in the Seattle Aquarium this summer! We also explored Rialto Beach in Olympic National Park and timed our visit to coincide with low tide so our daughters could see the starfish and sea creatures. That's what made this so incredibly sad to me -- the kids were just absolutely mesmerized by all of the color and life that crowded the shores. This was in early July. Apparently the die off started happening right around the same time.

Every time I take my kids to one of our national parks, I feel like I'm taking them to see the last fleeting moments of things that are rapidly changing and disappearing. The glaciers in Glacier National Park (gone within the next 20 years), the sea stars of the Olympic coast, the beetle-killed spruces in the Black Hills. The list could go on. It's so, so sad.
posted by Ostara at 7:44 PM on January 31 [4 favorites]


Hey, don't count our sea stars out of the game yet. It's not hopeless, just really concerning.

Raising a new generation of conservationists is a good way to make sure these things endure, so good on ya for teaching the kids that the ocean is more than a big blue wet thing.
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 7:48 PM on January 31 [7 favorites]


Wasn't there a plague of starfish killing the coral reefs?

Hence my personal apathy towards their demise. That being said, a population shift of enormous proportions is never a good thing.
posted by jsavimbi at 8:01 PM on January 31


Wasn't there a plague of starfish killing the coral reefs?

Those are crown of thorns starfish in the tropical pacific. These are a number of different starfish species along the coasts of California, Oregon, Washington, and the Puget Sound.

Totally different biome.
posted by fnerg at 8:09 PM on January 31 [3 favorites]


That's the jolly Crown Of Thorns starfish. The cheeky bugger is killing our reefs.

Fortunately, we've just decided to do that ourselves and beat it to it.
posted by Mezentian at 8:10 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Gah, hearing that starfish arms crawl apart and rip themselves in half makes me want to crawl apart and rip myself in half. Maybe that's how this is spreading, just the sheer horror of it.

I think this supports the idea that it's a bacterial infection.

Starfish are famous-- or notorious if you're an oyster farmer-- for being able to grow into two new complete individuals when cut in half, so if a starfish happens to have an uncontrollable bacterial infection, it's good strategy to rip itself in half to attempt to survive by isolating the infection to one of the halves.
posted by jamjam at 8:10 PM on January 31 [9 favorites]


Oh, Canada too, where the biggest outbreak was first reported.
posted by fnerg at 8:10 PM on January 31


First bees, then bats, then frogs, then monarch butterflies, then moose, then starfish...

Don't forget dolphins, manatees, and pelicans.

(Yes I know periodic die-offs are part of nature but it should be worrying when scientists are scratching their heads)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:54 PM on January 31


I think this supports the idea that it's a bacterial infection.

Starfish are famous-- or notorious if you're an oyster farmer-- for being able to grow into two new complete individuals when cut in half, so if a starfish happens to have an uncontrollable bacterial infection, it's good strategy to rip itself in half to attempt to survive by isolating the infection to one of the halves.
But the PBS report says that the affected species (or at least the first one mentioned) aren't the type of starfish that regrow.
posted by Jacob Knitig at 11:03 PM on January 31


*reads thread*
Oh, here's another horrible thing.
*reads thread more*
Not just horrible but incredibly sad. And extends a per-existing horrible pattern.
*reads thread more*
Oh wait, maybe not so bad?
*reads thread more*
No, false alarm, it's horrible.
posted by bleep at 12:33 AM on February 1 [4 favorites]


Solar flares and plate tectonics maybe, and as the ice sheets melt and the seas expand, don't be so sure about the latter.

And maybe someday when we harvest solar energy on a super-massive scale we'll stumble upon some weird resonant properties and spark off more solar flares!
posted by planetesimal at 7:09 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


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