Scientists search for clues in sea star die-off
Outbreak has devastated several species along North America’s Pacific coast this year.
by Danielle Venton
In their waterproof orange overalls, Hannah Perlkin and Emily Tucker look like commercial fishermen or storm-ready sailors. But they are biologists on their way to tide pools along a remote stretch of northern California coast. There they are searching for the cause of a mysterious and unprecedented die-off of sea stars along North America’s Pacific shores.
The syndrome took marine scientists by surprise this summer, when sick and dying sea stars — also known as starfish — appeared in a host of locations between Alaska and southern California. Predatory species were the first to succumb, but now the mysterious ailment is appearing in species once thought to be resistant to its effects.
The progression is predictable: white lesions appear on an animal and become infected. Within hours or days the sea star becomes limp, and its arms may fall off. Necrosis eventually takes over and the animal dies.
“It’s like a zombie wasteland,” says Tucker, who is, like Perlkin, a field technician employed by the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). “You’ll see detached arms crawling away from their body.”…
(read more: Nature)
photograph: Dermasterias imbricata turns into goo within hours of infection, by Emily Tucker