Wasting disease hits West Coast sea stars

An epidemic may be looming for the West Coast’s sea star population.

An outbreak of Sea Star Wasting Syndrome hit the lower mainland last summer and made its way towards the Gulf Islands but dodged local shores.

Ucluelet Aquarium curator Laura Griffith-Cochrane believes the West Coast might not be lucky twice.

“We’ve started to see traces of it in the Ucluelet harbour so it has hit here,” she said.

She said information about the disease is hazy but research is being done to determine what it is and how it can be stopped.

“We don’t 100 per cent know the exact cause yet but we are coming up on what’s going to be a pretty warm year and we do know that, like all things, warmer temperatures help to spread disease,” she said. “We are seeing it now and there might be a big outbreak of it on the West Coast this year.”

The disease turns up in Ucluelet every year but usually no more than a handful of local sea stars are infected.

“Right now what we’re seeing is not just the one case that happens a year which is normal; we’re seeing lots,” Griffith-Cochrane said.

She said sea stars infected with the disease appear “almost like they’re melting” as the animal’s soft tissue begins to break apart.

As a sea star’s soft tissues decay its calcium deposits, called ossicles, become exposed and the disease spreads throughout its body.

“If it hits right in the centre of a sea star the arms will actually detach and the arms have almost like their own nervous control so they’ll walk away from one another,” Griffith-Cochrane said. “It kind of looks like the body of the sea star got in a big argument with itself and every arm is going off in its own direction.”

Sea stars, like all echinoderms-a classification that includes sand stars, sea cucumbers, and sea urchins-can regenerate and heal themselves over time, which is a prime reason they can live for over 200 years but the Sea Star Wasting Disease can overpower these regeneration abilities and prove fatal, according to Griffith-Cochrane.

“We have had sea stars get it in the aquarium before and we’ve isolated them and overtime they’ve healed,” she said “But when it compromises more than 30 per cent of its body then it begins to fall apart.”

The aquarium is keeping track of the disease and is hoping locals can assist their efforts.

“We don’t have the funds to do active research but we’re really interested in it so we’re documenting and observing throughout the season,” Griffith-Cochrane said.

She encourages anyone who comes across what looks to be a sick sea star to photograph the animal note the time and location and bring this information to aquarium staff so a database can begin to be mapped out.

The Vancouver Aquarium is reporting the coast of British Columbia is currently experiencing a sea star mass mortality event, coined Sea Star Wasting Syndrome.

“The wasting syndrome may be a pathogen that affects several species in the same way, or there may be multiple agents at play. The underlying causes of the epidemic are not known,” the facility said, adding that they are working with many research sources to discover its causes.

Just Posted

Runners brave wet, windy weather for Ucluelet’s 20th Edge to Edge

“The spirit of the runners I have nothing but compliments.”

ELECTION 2019: NDP’s Gord Johns re-elected in Courtenay-Alberni

Conservative Byron Horner finishes second, with Green Party’s Sean Wood third

Trudeau has won the most seats — but not a majority. What happens next?

Trudeau will have to deal with some of the implications of Monday’s result

LIVE MAP: Results in Canada’s 2019 federal election

Polls are now closed across the country

ELECTION 2019: Here are the results from our 12 B.C. races to watch

Incumbents mostly won our 12 key races, but there were a few upsets too

VIDEO: Is the stethoscope dying? High-tech options pose threat

World-renowned cardiologist believes the device is just a pair of ‘rubber tubes’

85-year-old woman perishes in house fire in Cumberland Wednesday

Police and fire personnel were called to the scene of a fire… Continue reading

‘Cartoony’ mushrooms popping up across Vancouver Island are highly poisonous

Fly Agaric mushrooms can cause hallucinations, gastrointestinal pain and death

Beers on the job, smacking crotches: 10 police misconduct probes in B.C.

Recent report by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner highlights a number of investigations

Seizure of cannabis edibles, including mac-and-cheese, prompt warning from B.C. RCMP

Potato chips, cheesecake and candy infused with cannabis also seized back in August

B.C. parents sue city and province in 12-year-old daughter’s drowning at lake

Beverly Park drowned at Rotary Lake in Dawson Creek in August 2016

Island mom warning others as suspicious powder found in mail

“I was very uneasy … it could be coffee whitener or it could be something else in the bag.”

VIDEO: Chill with polar bears through an Arctic live cam

Cam reopens just ahead of Polar Bear Week

Most Read