Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Monday, November 4, 2013

Diseased Starfish Disintegrating Along the West Coast

Posted By on Mon, Nov 4, 2013 at 8:07 AM

click to enlarge Pretty ... pretty sick - WIKIMEDIA/THEMARGUE
  • Wikimedia/TheMargue
  • Pretty ... pretty sick

Starfish -- the marine animal that is actually not a fish -- are mysteriously meeting their death along the West Coast in frequent numbers, and marine scientists are aren't sure who or what to blame.

According to the Press Democrat, mangled starfish are popping up from Alaska to Southern California, sickened by a disease that causes them to lose their arms and disintegrate.

"They essentially melt in front of you," Pete Raimondi, chairman of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at University of California, Santa Cruz's Long Marine Lab, told The Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

The starfish are reportedly dying from "sea star wasting disease," a sickness that causes white lesions to develop on the animals, causing them to turn into "goo." However, scientists do not know what's causing the disease. According to the newspaper, the disease has decimated about 95 percent of a particular starfish species living in tide pool populations along the West Coast, including San Francisco.

A map of where this madness is happening - PACIFIC ROCKY INTERTIDAL MONITORING
  • Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring
  • A map of where this madness is happening

In September, starfish in an aquarium at the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary visitor center in San Francisco reportedly died from wasting disease after water was pumped in from the ocean.

It's happened before, but never to this extent, scientists say; In 1983, wasting disease hit Southern California but remained localized. Typically, the disease affects only one species, Pisaster ochraceus -- the an orange-and-purple (pretty!) starfish that grows up to 20 inches wide and is a staple of West Coast tide pools.

As with any other ecological disruption, this could have a domino effect in the Ocean. According to the Associated Press, Starfish dine on mussels, so scientists worry that a collapse in the Pisaster population will allow mussels to multiply -- unchecked -- pushing out other species.

Steven Morgan, an environmental science professor at the Bodega Marine Laboratory at the University of California, Davis, has found emaciated sea stars on the rocks at Schoolhouse Beach north of Bodega Bay, but said he has no idea if wasting syndrome was the culprit.

"None of us had ever seen anything like this before," he told the AP.

  • Pin It

About The Author

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert was the Online News Editor for SF Weekly from 2010 to 2015. She's a Texas native and has a closet full of cowboy boots to prove it.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"