In late 2013, some sunflower sea stars in British Columbia, Washington and California began dying from a condition that gives the impression of “melting.” Dr Alyssa Newton, WCS pathologist and head of the WCS Health Programs' Aquatic Health Program, was part of a collaborative team of scientists from multiple organizations investigating the cause of the die-off termed Sea Star Wasting Disease (SSWD).
A pathogen known as a densovirus, part of the same parvovirus group that can cause gastrointestinal disease in unvaccinated dogs was identified as the causative agent. The rate of die-off has decreased, in part because so many sea stars have died already, but since being first observed the virus has caused the death of millions of seas stars across several species from Alaska to Canada and down to Baja, Mexico. Research teams are now monitoring sea star populations, assessing the impacts of this die-off, looking for signs of recovery and trying to better understand why this disease—likely a common ocean virus—suddenly began rampaging through 19 species of sea stars.
Thumbnail sea star photo credit: Julie Larsen Maher, WCS
Banner sea star phoot credit: By Nhobgood Nick Hobgood (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons