Sea Star Disease Hits Central Oregon Coast
(Newport, Oregon) – Divers from the Oregon Coast Aquarium made a disturbing find in Yaquina Bay last week: the dreaded sea star wasting syndrome that has plagued California in recent years has shown up on this coastline. (Photos courtesy Oregon Coast Aquarium).
The disease is a fatal one that strikes a variety of starfish (actually technically called sea stars), causing their limbs to literally disintegrate. Many scientists have been sampling the Oregon coastline since winter, and the aquarium’s dive team is the first to find a real foothold of the disease. The team observed sunflower stars, Pycnopodia helianthoides, ochre stars, Pisaster ochraceus, and giant pink stars, Pisaster brevispinus, with intermediate or advanced signs of wasting syndrome on an April 27 morning dive in Yaquina Bay.
The disease starts with a small sore on the body of the starfish, one which soon gets infected and causes the body tissue to decay. This form bacteria of causes the starfish to become a pile of mush in just a few days.
Another aspect that is very worrisome is that the species affected the most are top-tier predators in intertidal zones which help maintain ecological balance.
Oregon's populations had not shown any sign, and in fact Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife scientists originally thought the likelihood of the disease because the habitats are quite different than those in California or British Columbia. Those ares are typified by quieter waters and calmer conditions, while the Oregon coast tends to be rather rough and tumultuous.
Now that the disease has shown up here, scientists are gravely concerned. That fact that Yaquina Bay is a calmer habitat like those where the ailment has appeared could mean it may stay fairly limited, but Oregon Coast Aquarium officials and other researchers are going into full defense mode.
Aquarium staff will start hitting the open waters off the Oregon coast to try and find out more, while they and other agencies and members of the public will be coordinating efforts with similar entities in other coastal states, especially California.
“The Aquarium is perfectly positioned to study the near shore marine environments of the Oregon coast and the animals and algae that live within them,” said Jim Burke, the Aquarium’s Director of Animal Husbandry. “We have a great team of trained biologists and scuba divers that are often submersed looking to better understand these ecosystems, and also, trends that happen over time. These efforts are an integral part of what the Aquarium staff and volunteers do as stewards of the local ocean, bays and watersheds. All of our field work gives us the ability to provide our visitors with educated, firsthand information through our exhibits and interpretation.”
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