Not Bright — Starfish ‘Goo’

December 28, 2013

happy-rainbow-fish-j-vincent-scarpaceBright sunshine sprinkled twixt clouds and fog along California’s north coast this Saturday morning, and onward into the weekend.

Most of what humans do in order to continue civilization has great effect, even a small touch here could create calamity/catastrophe over there, produce strange, not-so-pretty shit.

(Illustration found here).

I vaguely remember reading a brief report on this some time ago, but apparently it’s now evolved into one strange, tragic-bizarre puzzle: When a Vancouver Aquarium diver visited the society’s rockfish study site off Bowyer Island this summer, she noticed something strange: sea stars dying in alarming numbers, some with limbs falling off and others apparently melting in place.
The crazy “sea star wasting syndrome” (starfish are supposedly “sea stars”) has since migrated from Canada/Alaska/Washington state waters rapidly down the Left Coast to balmy San Diego — leaving experts baffled, and asking,WTF?
From USAToday this morning:

It’s widespread, it’s very virulent and it’s unlike anything we’ve seen in the past,” said Pete Raimondi, a marine ecologist at the University of California-Santa Cruz who is one of the lead researchers in an international effort to track the outbreak.
The ailment seems to hit starfish the hardest, with smaller numbers of sea urchins and sea cucumbers reported falling to it. No one knows what percentage of the West Coast’s starfish are affected but in some areas they’ve been wiped out.
So far at least 12 different starfish species are known to be at risk, Raimondi said.

The animals first “look a little bit odd,” said Mike Murray, director of veterinary services at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, Calif.
“Their arms may be twisted or weirdly positioned.”
They then develop what look like tiny wounds on their surface and bits of whitish discoloration.
Within days and sometimes hours, the animal begins to waste away and fall apart.
“It’s almost like they’re melting,” he says.
“They turn into slime or goo, they just kind of disintegrate.”
Scientists are asking recreational divers to report outbreaks.
Don Noviello is a member of the Kelp Krawlers Dive Club in Olympia Wash.
He and a dive partner saw their first infected sea stars on Dec. 21.
“It’s like they become zombies of the sea,” Noviello said.
“I saw a leg walking away by itself,” he said.

Marine biologists have walked into a natural brick wall:

The fact that the ailment is so widespread is what’s most troubling, said Benjamin Miner, a professor of marine biology at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash.
“Every time you come up with what seems like a reasonable hypothesis, it’s challenged because other affected places don’t match.”
Whatever is killing the sea stars is highly lethal.
“We’ve had populations go locally extinct overnight. Literally.
“Some species go from completely fine to a mush ball in 24 hours,” said Miner, who’s organizing the mapping project.
Starfish may seem fairly unimportant, but they’re actually a keystone species in many marine environments.
Most live near the shore, but some inhabit the bottom of deep seas.
Few things eat them, but they are a top predator, eating mussels, barnacles and sea snails.
“The niche they fill is vital.
“If they die off, the ecological communities they live in could change fundamentally,” Raimondi said.

And I hope this doesn’t backfire in chaotic, unforeseen directions — via the Globe and Mail, and Jeff Marliave, the Vancouver Aquarium’s vice-president of marine science, on the probable causes of the starfish kill: Another is ocean warming and climate change. But researchers dismiss this as well. “Those are long-term trends, whereas this is something very sudden and very isolated. This is spread in a fashion that probably does not link to that sort of thing,” Mr. Marliave said. “It may just wind up being one of these mysteries.”
No one likes a badly-ended mystery. The aquarium guide may help solve some of these issues.

Last month, our local rag up here, the Times-Standard, carried a story on the Lost Coast handling of this phenomenon, research coming from Humboldt State University.
Last two graphs of the story should have been the lede — locals don’t call the newspaper, the “Sub-Standard,” for nothing:

HSU scientists began conducting surveys about a month ago after noticing some of the sea stars collected in the wild and brought to the Telonicher Marine Lab became sick and died.
“We noticed the collected animals we brought back to the lab autotomized so rapidly they fell apart,” HSU marine biologist Kathryn McDonald said.
“We’ve never seen anything like it.”

Maybe because this is the weirdest period in human history — there’s a shitload of stuff we’ve never seen before (how about 400 ppm CO2?), which has come about via mankind’s so-called advancement in living, or whatever.

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