Huffpost Green

Starfish Disease, 'Sea Star Wasting Syndrome,' Finds Way Into Anchorage Museum

Posted: Updated:
SEA STARS
FILE- This Saturday, July 31, 2010 file photo shows a starfish (or sea star) as it clings to a rock near Haystack Rock during low tide in Cannon Beach, Ore. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, file) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Starfish at the Anchorage Museum have shown signs of a wasting disease reported up and down the West Coast, and eight had to be euthanized last fall.

The creatures are dying of sea star wasting syndrome, an affliction that causes white lesions to develop on the starfish's skin and an unnatural twisting of the arms, the Anchorage Daily News reported. The starfish die after losing their arms and their tissues soften.

Marine scientists say the disease is killing massive numbers of starfish colonies up and down the West Coast, and it has been observed as far south as San Diego.

Scientists don't know how many of the tens of millions of starfish along the coast have the disease.

Pete Raimondi, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California in Santa Cruz, told the newspaper it may be in the tens of thousands to the low millions. The symptoms appear to be highly present among starfish in captivity, he added.

In Alaska, researchers first discovered evidence of the wasting disease last summer on Kayak Island in the Gulf of Alaska. They found a number of diseased sea stars, replacing an earlier theory that the illness was linked to warmer water, he added.

"It was the last place on earth where we would have expected to see it," Raimondi told the Daily News.

His group, the Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Group, was working with the Sitka Sound Science Center to conduct coastal biodiversity surveys.

At the Anchorage Museum, curator Greg Danner said the disease seems to have vanished since November. Before that, the museum euthanized a total of eight sea stars between August and November. Symptoms ranged from white lesions to a sea star that lost two arms during the day.

The museum changed its aquarium practices, including controlling tank temperature by limiting the number of hands in the water, and that may have made a difference, he said.

Raimondi said it appears that species are affected differently depending on their physical location. For sea star species in tide pool areas, death may follow in weeks or not at all after lesions or sores show up.

But the results are catastrophic and quick for underwater species with less physical structure in the environment, Raimondi said. Decay can take place within hours or a day.

At the Sitka Sound Science Center, aquarium manager Taylor White said that she and others haven't seen the same impacts that have been described in the Lower 48 states.

"It's honestly not that extreme up here," she said.

Researchers in Sitka are hoping to get more data to track the disease, White added.

Raimondi's team plans to return to Sitka Sound in March to sample established survey plots to better understand the wasting syndrome.

___

Information from: Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News, http://www.adn.com

Also on HuffPost:

Close
100 Most Threatened Species
of
Share
Tweet
Advertisement
Share this
close
Current Slide

Suggest a correction

Around the Web

Mysterious Disease Turning Sea Stars to Goo May Disrupt Tidal ...

Falling Stars: Starfish Dying From “Disintegrating” Disease

Starfish Wasting Disease: Fukishima Related? : Discovery News

Mystery disease turning starfish into "goo" - CBS News

Researchers hunt for cause of fatal starfish disease

Starfish Ripped Apart by Mysterious Disease

Cause of starfish deaths a mystery to researchers

From Our Partners