Sea Star Wasting Syndrome

A disease that began killing millions of sea stars along the West Coast last fall has reached public aquariums in Western Washington.

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium has lost more than half of its 369 sea stars — commonly known as starfish — to the disease, which is comparable to the mortality rate in the wild, said Neil Allen, curator of aquatics at the Tacoma aquarium.

Seattle Aquarium staff members started noticing sick sea stars in early July in tanks where visitors can touch the starfish. Eventually the aquarium lost hundreds of sea stars in its exhibits, including all of its 43 sunflower sea stars.

The grisly disease starts with the creature’s limbs contorting in unnatural ways. White lesions appear on the body, the limbs tear off and the sea star deflates.

“We have to suspect that it’s causing pain even though we don’t know (for certain),” said Lesanna Lahner, staff engineer at the Seattle Aquarium.

There is no evidence the disease is transmissible to humans but the sea stars were taken out of the Seattle Aquarium exhibits to prevent other starfish from contracting the syndrome, she said.


PORT ANGELES, Wash. (AP) – The disease wreaking havoc on wild sea star populations on the West Coast has struck captive collections in the Olympic Peninsula.The Peninsula Daily News reports Monday that sea stars at Port Townsend’s Marine Life Center and Feiro Marine Life Center in Port Angeles have died of the disease, known as sea star wasting. In Port Townsend, 12 ochre stars have died, while it eliminated a species from the tanks in Port Angeles. Both centers pipe in ocean water for their tanks. Experts believe the disease may be caused by bacteria or virus and that it’s infectious. Caretakers at the Peninsula’s marine science centers don’t intend to replace sea stars until they feel more confident they can keep them alive and to avoid taking breeding adults that may be needed to replenish wild colonies.


Scientists link MILLIONS of starfish dying off in the Pacific Ocean to warming of the waters

  • Scientists believe that disease, ‘sea star wasting syndrome’, linked to warmer than usual waters in the Pacific Ocean
  • Over 40 percent of sea stars are showing symptoms of having the disease
  • Disease causes lesions and decay of sea star bodies, resulting in a mangled form
  • ‘It’s the largest mortality event for marine diseases we’ve seen’ says scientist

Published: 02:43 AEST, 23 June 2014 | Updated: 03:11 AEST, 23 June 2014


Watch the video Sea star epidemic hits Hood Canal on Yahoo Canada. NEAR HOODSPORT, Wash. — Diver Laura James hoped Hood Canal might be a corner of Puget Sound that would be spared from the die off of sea stars that has ravaged the entire West Coast. She lost hope after her latest dive. The underwater walls and floor of the popular Sund Rock diving site are covered with sea stars in various stages of death. She took me along on a dive and showed me how some of sea stars had become squishy and floppy, others were just beginning to lose limbs. Others already had and in many cases there were only mats of debris, the shadow left by sea stars that died and dissolved away. She is documenting the so-called wasting disease that was first noticed in British Columbia last year but has now shown up in the Pacific all the way from Alaska to Southern California. James is not easy to keep up with underwater. She said she is trying to stay ahead of the die off, but more often than not ends up chasing it from one corner of the sound to another. Her pictures are compelling and are uploaded for scientists across the country to study and document.


Watch the video Mysterious disease killing off starfish in oceans, aquariums on Yahoo News . An underwater disease is killing starfish up and down the West Coast. There are fears this disease could spread even further.


ORCAS ISLAND, Wash. — Drew Harvell peers into the nooks and crannies along the rocky shoreline of Eastsound on Orcas Island. Purple and orange starfish clutch the rocks, as if hanging on for dear life.

In fact, they are.

“It’s a lot worse than it was last week,” says Harvell, a marine epidemiologist at Cornell University. She’s been leading nationwide efforts to understand what is causing starfish to die by the millions up and down North America’s Pacific shores and on the east coast as well. It’s been called sea star wasting syndrome because of how quickly the stars become sick and deteriorate.

“It’s the largest mortality event for marine diseases we’ve seen,” Harvell said. “It affects over twenty species on our coast and it’s been causing catastrophic mortality.”

Scientists have been working for months to find out what’s causing the massive die-off and now Harvell and others have evidence that an infectious disease caused by a bacteria or virus, may be at the root of the problem. The disease, they say, could be compounded by warming waters, which put the sea stars under stress, making them more vulnerable to the pathogen.

Harvell has studied marine diseases for 20 years. She had thought that the syndrome might spare Washington’s San Juan Islands. Until recently, pockets of cold water and swift currents seem to have protected the local sea star population from the epidemic.


From Alaska to Mexico—and all along the B.C. coast—an iconic animal is disappearing. For reasons that remain baffling to scientists, starfish are dying by the millions, in the grips of a mysterious wasting disease that dissolves their bodies into goo. “I’d do beach walks along a 50-m stretch of shoreline, and count 500 or 1,000 of them,” says Chris Harley, a marine ecologist at the University of British Columbia who’s been monitoring sea stars (as scientists call them) for nearly two decades at sites around Vancouver, West Vancouver and White Rock. Revisiting one of these sites recently, he found a single sea star.


A mysterious disease that is turning sea stars to goo has taken off along the Oregon coast, with up to half or more of the creatures being infected in just the last few weeks, scientists say.

Until now, Oregon was the one state along the U.S. West Coast essentially spared from the disease. In April, researchers estimated less than 1 percent or so of the purple ochre sea stars (Pisaster ochraceus) living within 10 sites along Oregon’s intertidal zones — which provide an easily accessible place to monitor sea stars — were affected by the wasting disease. By mid-May that percentage had gone up slightly, and then after that it seemed to skyrocket.

“The percentages we saw last week, they were as high as 40 to 60 percent of the population that’s showing signs of wasting,” said Bruce Menge, a marine biologist at Oregon State University, who is studying the wasting disease in Oregon. [See Images of the Purple Ochre Sea Stars]

Turning sea stars to goo

Sea star wasting syndrome causes a sea star’s body to disintegrate, ultimately leading to death.


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Mystery Starfish Killer Lurks Along Entire West Coast

PORTLAND, Ore. (CBS Seattle) – With the discovery of a mysterious illness that turns starfish into goo along the Oregon coast, scientists say the wasting disease has now spread from Mexico to Alaska, reports Live Science. “The percentages we saw last week, they were as high as 40 to 60 percent of the population that’s showing signs of wasting,” said Bruce Menge, a marine biologist at Oregon State University. Dubbed “Starfish Wasting Syndrome,” the disease kills by causing the animal’s body to disintegrate. The early signs are subtle, the sea star appears to fold…

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Purple ochre sea stars are facing extinction in Oregon due to the same mysterious disease seen around Vancouver Island last summer, says a report from Oregon State University.

The report says sea star wasting syndrome has exploded in the past two weeks on the Oregon coast — which until recently had been spared — and is threatening the state’s entire population of purple ochre sea stars.

The disease — which causes sea stars, commonly known as starfish, to lose legs and disintegrate — was first noticed last summer near Vancouver and Seattle and spread to many intertidal areas around Vancouver Island. The Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre in Sidney has been monitoring it. California has also been affected, as have states on the East Coast, from New Jersey to Maine.

Purple ochre sea stars aren’t the only species affected by the disease — from here to Alaska, it’s the sun star that is dying off — but they appear to be the most heavily affected in the intertidal zone, according to OSU researchers. Sea stars are a “keystone” predator, keeping shellfish populations under control, and their loss could affect the entire marine intertidal ecosystem, they say.