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Starfish Dying Along California Coast

Starfish are mysteriously dying from a 'sea star wasting disease' and scientists aren't sure whom or what to blame.

Starfish are vanishing along the California coastline, alarming marine biologists. (Photo: Patch Archive)
Starfish are vanishing along the California coastline, alarming marine biologists. (Photo: Patch Archive)
By Christa Bigue (Editor)

Marine scientists are puzzled by a recent phenomena. They say sea stars are under attack by an unknown wasting disease and are dying in large numbers off the nation’s eastern and western coasts.

In Half Moon Bay local biologist and birder Alvaro Jaramillo has noticed the demise, too. 

"I go crabbing locally here in Half Moon Bay with the kids, and we do not see starfish any more, we used to, on the pilings, on the rocks, sometimes in our traps ... they are gone," he said. "I do not see the classic Glaucous-winged Gull with half a sea star sticking out of the bill any longer. It is alarming to say the least, and I for one am worried."

All along the Pacific coast, sea stars are experiencing their largest known die-off, which is affecting more species of sea stars than any other attack in recent memory, according to a Washington Post article. A smaller and isolated Atlantic outbreak, at points off Rhode Island and Maine, has also been noted.

Scientists do know that wasting is happening on both coasts, but they don’t know if the two die-offs are linked. Some blame climate change or acidic waters or other warming-related issues, but at this point it's all just speculation.

The mystery surrounding the die-off was the subject of a recent NBC Nightly News investigation in Monterey Bay. Two species of starfish that used to thrive in the cove next to Monterey have completely disappeared, prompting scientists and experts in marine biology to take a closer look at the situation beneath the water's surface.

"It's happened so rapidly that some species are just missing," said marine biologist Pete Raimondi, from the University of California, Santa Cruz, (UCSC) Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, in a recent Natural News article.

Raimondi explains in the Natural News article that at this point experts are investigating things like warmer water, lower oxygen levels and ocean acidification as potential causes of the strange illness, all of which could be legitimate culprits. 

He adds that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe remains mostly untouched by the scientists investigating the situation.

"I've had probably 100 emails thus far saying, 'What about Fukushima, because of radiation?' ... We haven't ruled that out yet but we're clearly not ruling that in," he said in the article.

Jaramillo questions the Fukushima theory: "I think it is disease or something else related to a shift in the water temperature, nutrients, local pollution. You could have immense amounts of radioactivity pouring into one part of the ocean, and that would have little effect elsewhere in the ocean. I think we need to look at water temperatures, disease ... "

The mysterious illness turns the starfish to "goo," according to the Washington Post article. The starfish's limbs are curling up at the tips, arms are detaching from dying bodies and ulcers are opening holes in tissue, allowing internal organs to ooze out.

"I am more clued in to the birds, but this was so obvious that an invertebrate illiterate like myself could still see that something was going on," said Jaramillo. "It is scary. Think of the AIDS epidemic, the Great Influenza, the Holocaust to put into perspective what is going on with our sea star populations ... All I know is that intense selection can be crippling to populations, but it selects for the tiny minority that can handle the stress. What are we missing, that we are not thinking about that is upsetting the Great Balance?"


Edwina Edwards January 06, 2014 at 08:32 PM
Has anyone considered GMO contamination?
Tink Ketchum January 15, 2014 at 05:34 PM
gee i wonder why all that radiation from Japan

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