NW scientist taps into personalities, diets to help sunflower sea stars shine again – KNKX

In December, sunflower sea stars were declared critically endangered by an international union of scientists…But there is hope. Pockets of healthy populations of sunflower sea stars still exist in parts of the Salish Sea. And a scientist working at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Labs on San Juan Island is pioneering new techniques to breed them in captivity. Bellamy Pailthorp reports. (KNKX)

Starfish Are Still Disappearing From Northwest Waters – Earthfix

Catching up on this since I’m back from vacation.

A couple of years ago, divers in Puget Sound began to notice something odd: Starfish were disappearing. The sea creatures would get sores and then melt into piles of mush. Sea star wasting syndrome is a gruesome disease and it spread to starfish all along the West Coast. Scientists still don’t know a lot about it. Katie Campbell, a reporter for EarthFix and KCTS9, says that although scientists have isolated the cause, the creatures continue to die.  Katie Campbell and Isolde Raftery report. (EarthFix)


Scientists Find Out What’s Killing West Coast Starfish – Earthfix

Well, the answers are finally in, and it appears a mutated strain of a common virus to starfish has set this in motion.

SEATTLE — After months of research, scientists have identified the pathogen at the heart of the starfish wasting disease that’s been killing starfish by the millions along the Pacific shores of North America, according to research published Monday.

…The research team also plans to continue investigating environmental factors such as warming water and ocean acidification that may have caused starfish to be more susceptible to the viral infection.

Read the whole story here:


Watching Starfish Waste Away – Not much new news – Salish Sea Communications

Mike Sato, my East Sound compatriot reporting on issues there in his blog, Salish Sea Communications, went to a lecture by Dr. Ben Miner, who is researching the starfish wasting disease.

(Bellingham) Those of us who might have wanted Dr. Ben Miner of Western Washington University to identify the mysterious disease that is killing starfish along the Pacific West Coast would have left his talk last Tuesday sadly unsatisfied after an hour or so. Real life and death isn’t like an hour’s episode of CSI. As with all good, rigorous science, establishing what isn’t the cause is as important as hypothesizing what might be the cause.

Mike mentions in his reporting that the disease could be either bacterial or viral, then quotes the Dr. as saying that they have protected starfish with antibiotics. If that’s true, then it’s not a virus, which would not respond to antibiotics. Just to be clear.

Read the rest of the story:

Video on mysterious epidemic devastating starfish population off the Pacific Coast – KCTS & Earthfix

Short video on that covers the issues of the disease that is destroying a key predator in the marine habitat. If you have kids, this is a good quick overview. Lots of underwater shots.


Is Fukushima Radiation Causing Pacific Starfish Die-offs?- Earthfix

Good info on a question that has been raised a lot lately.

The short answer is almost definitely no. Scientists do not see a connection between the massive die-offs of starfish along the Pacific shores of North America and Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Read the rest of the story here:


Northwest Starfish Experiments Give Scientists Clues To Mysterious Mass Die-offs – Earthfix

More on the starfish die-off.

Near the ferry docks on Puget Sound, a group of scientists and volunteer divers shimmy into suits and double-check their air tanks… (Ben) Miner is a biology professor at Western Washington University. He studies how environmental changes affect marine life. He’s conducting experiments in hopes of figuring out how and why starfish — or sea stars, as scientists prefer to call the echinoderms — are wasting away by the tens of thousands up and down North America’s Pacific shores. Katie Campbell reports.



Citizen Scientists Asked To Help Search For #SickStarfish – Earthfix

This new crisis to our marine environment is spreading, and here’s a way you can help track it. From reports I’ve read, the root cause may be revealed in the next month. Scientists say they feel they are close to uncovering it. I’ll report on those findings as soon as I see them.

With thousands of miles of coastline in North America, scientists can’t be everywhere at once to keep an eye out for sick and dying starfish…. Puget Sound diver Laura James has built a new tool to make it easy for citizen scientists to help…. James and her dive buddy Lamont Granquist created a sick starfish website for tracking posts to social media sites like Twitter and Instagram. If divers, tidepoolers or beachcombers snap photos of starfish and add the hashtag #sickstarfish, their reports will automatically upload to the map. Katie Campbell reports.


See also: Sea star wasting syndrome found in seven specimens in Freshwater Bay http://peninsuladailynews.com/article/20140131/news/301319969/sea-star-wasting-syndrome-found-in-seven-specimens-in-freshwater-bay

Hawaii’s starfish protected from fatal wasting disease – staradvertiser (Hawaii)

There have been some outrageous reports on the Internet lately, with people associating Japan’s Fukushima nuclear meltdown to the die off of our starfish. Folks, it’s apparently a bacterium or virus and has not been affecting Hawaiian Island starfish. If this was related to Fukushima, you would be seeing it there, first. This is not a scientific article, but points out that they apparently have not been affected.


…Wasting disease has not affected Hawaii’s starfish. Because a bacterium or virus is the suspected cause of the starfish illness, being more than 2,000 miles away from the sick individuals seems to be, so far, an effective quarantine. In addition to being isolated by distance, Hawaii’s mountaintop islands and steep ocean drop-offs offer starfish few shallow marine environments, the preferred habitat of many species. Of the 1,900 or so sea star species in the world, Hawaii hosts only 20 in shallow water and 68 in deep water. Susan Scott reports.

Mass Starfish Die-off Appears Headed For Washington – KUOW

Any of you out there diving, you might want to keep an eye open for this happening around the Peninsula dive sites.

In October, divers with the SeaDoc Society have reported small numbers of sunflower stars and three other species of sea stars wasting away in the San Juan Islands. “Every population has sick animals,” said SeaDoc Society wildlife veterinarian Joe Gaydos, on a boat off Orcas Island between research dives. “Are we just seeing sick animals because we’re looking for it, or is it an early sign of a large epidemic that may come through and wipe out a lot of animals?” Scientists in Washington and British Columbia are gathering sea stars for analysis. They’re sending the healthy and diseased specimens to wildlife laboratories to find out if the wasting disease is a virus, bacteria or something else entirely. John Ryan reports.


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