Scientists rush to solve the mystery of the melting starfish
Claudia Cowan reports from Aquarium of the Bay San Francisco
Starfish are making a comeback on the West Coast, four years after a mysterious syndrome killed millions of them.
From 2013 to 2014, Sea Star Wasting Syndrome hit sea stars from British Columbia to Mexico. The starfish to develop lesions and then disintegrate, their arms turning into blobs of goo.
The cause is unclear, but the researchers say that it could be a virus.
But now, the species is rebounding. Sea stars can be spotted in the Southern California tide pools, and elsewhere, the Orange County Register reported Tuesday.
“They come back, big time,” Darryl Deleske, aquarist for the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in Los Angeles, told the newspaper.
“It is a huge difference” Deleske said. “A few years ago, you would not find. I dived all the way as far as Canada, looking specifically for starfish, and found no one.”
Similar die-offs of starfish on the west coast were reported in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, but the last outbreak was much larger and more spread out, according to a report from researchers at the University of Santa Cruz.
Beginning with oker stars from the state of Washington, the spread of the disease, the deaths of large stars, leather stars, sunflower stars, rainbows, and six-pointed stars.
It hit the South of California up to and including December 2013.
“When it did (come), you just started to see them melting everywhere,” said Deleske. “You’d see an arm here, an arm.”
The recovery is promising.
Four adult sea stars, each about 7 to 8 inches long, saw that this month at Crystal Cove State Park in Newport Beach.
“It is a treasure that we always hope to find,” said Kaitlin Magliano, education coordinator at the Crystal Cove Conservancy.
“We lost all of them,” she said. “It is good to see we have a number of survive and thrive . Maybe the next generation will be more resistance.”
The stars are not out of danger yet.
The wasting syndrome never completely disappeared in Northern and Central California, and it appeared in the Salish Sea region of Washington state, according to a report in November by the University of Santa Cruz.