'MYSTERY' -- Mass Die-off of Starfish Along Pacific Coast From B.C. to California...

“Alarming” mass die-off of starfish in areas along Canada’s Pacific coast — “They’ve disintegrated, now there’s just goo left” — “Appeared to melt” — “Single arms clinging to rock faces, tube feet still moving” — Similar reports as far away as California.

“Alarming” mass die-off of starfish in areas along Canada’s Pacific coast — “They’ve disintegrated, now there’s just goo left” — “Appeared to melt” — “Single arms clinging to rock faces, tube feet still moving” — Similar reports as far away as California.

(by SUSAN DUCLOS) -- From Canada to California, starfish are dying en masse, described as “disintegrated, now there is just goo left,” and “single arms clinging to rock faces, tube feet still moving.”

Staff at the Vancouver Aquarium do not know what is causing this mass die-off, reports Global News and  the Vancouver Sun reports that within weeks “the tentacled orange sea stars had all but disappeared in Howe Sound and Vancouver Harbour, disintegrating where they sat on the ocean floor.”

The photo above the article was taken by Jonathan Martin, who gives a firsthand account of what he witnessed, saying “We just started noticing dead starfish that looked like they had their arms chopped off.”

“It really struck a chord in other divers who were seeing it on Facebook and social media, both locally and as far away as California, who had been seeing similar things,” he continued.

Still without any answers, Martin wrote to invertebrate expert Christopher Mah, a researcher at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and author of the Echinoblog. In his email, he said:

“[The starfish] seem to waste away, ‘deflate’ a little, and then just … disintegrate. The arms just detach, and the central disc falls apart. It seems to happen rapidly, and not just dead animals undergoing decomposition, as I observed single arms clinging to the rock faces, tube feet still moving, with the skin split, gills flapping in the current. I’ve seen single animals in the past looking like this, and the first dive this morning I thought it might be crabbers chopping them up and tossing them off the rocks. Then we did our second dive in an area closed to fishing, and in absolutely amazing numbers. The bottom from about 20 to 50 feet [6 to 15 meters] was absolutely littered with arms, oral discs, tube feet, gonads and gills … it was kind of creepy.”


 

Canadian Press, Oct. 7, 2013: Vancouver Aquarium ‘alarmed’ at mass die-off of starfish on B.C. ocean floor [...] aquarium staff don’t know just how far-reaching the “alarming” epidemic has been, and whether this and other sea star species will recover. “They’re gone. It’s amazing,” said Donna Gibbs, a research diver and taxonomist on the aquarium’s Howe Sound Research and Conservation group. “Whatever hit them, it was like wildfire and just wiped them out.” [...] Aquarium staff don’t know the cause because they have had trouble gathering specimens for testing, as starfish that looked healthy in the ocean turned up as goo at the lab. [...] “We’re just not sure yet if it’s all the same thing,” Gibbs said. “They’re dying so fast.” [...] The collaboration came about after a graduate student collected starfish for a research project and then watched as they “appeared to melt” in her tank. [...]

Global News, Oct. 3, 2013: [...] starfish wasting or completely disintegrating ever since early September. “Now they are gone. They have disintegrated, and now there is just goo left,” says research diver and taxonomist Donna Gibbs. “So we are trying to see as much as we can really fast and get reports from divers in other areas to see how widespread this is.” […] “It is shocking to see them all dead. They are just gone. And, are they coming back? We want them back. B.C. is known for its sea stars. We have more species here than anywhere else in the world.” [...]

National Geographic, Sept. 9, 2013: [...] “It really struck a chord in other divers who were seeing it on Facebook and social media, both locally and as far away as California, who had been seeing similar things,” [marine biologist Jonathan] Martin said. [...] Martin wrote to invertebrate expert Christopher Mah, a researcher at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. [...] he said: “(The starfish) seem to waste away, ‘deflate’ a little, and then just … disintegrate. The arms just detach, and the central disc falls apart. It seems to happen rapidly, and not just dead animals undergoing decomposition, as I observed single arms clinging to the rock faces, tube feet still moving, with the skin split, gills flapping in the current. [...] we did our second dive in an area closed to fishing, and in absolutely amazing numbers. The bottom from about 20 to 50 feet [6 to 15 meters] was absolutely littered with arms, oral discs, tube feet, gonads and gills … it was kind of creepy.” [...] Yet what’s especially alarming to Martin, Mah, and other marine biologists is the fact that this die-off might not be restricted to P. helianthoides or the northern Pacific. [...] Fisheries and Oceans Canada is worried enough that they’ve asked Martin to go back out and collect samples for them to test in the lab. [...]