Monday, November 17, 2014

Mystery of Sea Star Wasting Disease Solved?

After what has been a very active year trying to understand sea star wasting disease, scientists at Cornell University and Western Washington University have identified what appears to be the culprit for sea star wasting- a virus in the same family that commonly affects canines.

Canine parvovirus, a virus closely related to the pathogen likely affecting sea stars (Image:
If you have a dog, you may be familiar of the parvovirus- a pathogen that causes rapid digestive degeneration, diarrhea, dehydration and even death in unvaccinated puppies.  This same type of virus- named the Densovirus, was recently identified with genetic analysis as the top possible culprit in sea star wasting disease.

For the past year, scientists, beachcombers, and marine biologists have been taking stock of sea star deaths along the west coast of North America.  Populations of important sea stars have been rapidly declining, while its victims appeared to slowly succumb to white lesions, and eventually completely 'melted' to death.  Some sea stars are capable of surviving the disease, but until recently the entire phenomenon was a complete mystery.

Sea star found in Newport, OR with the typical lesions of SSWD (Sheanna Steingass)
The National Science Foundation provided rapid funding for a group of scientists trying to solve the puzzle, and they believe they did.  They were able to isolate and identify the Star Associated Densovirus (SSaDV), a virus that is commonly found in invertebrates, and has been present in archival museum samples of starfish.  This discovery is also unique for being the first case of a virus being described in sea stars.

Cases of sea star wasting disease have popped up historically, but this even has thus far been unprecedented in its severity and large geographical extent.  Additionally, concerns were raised regarding the possibility radiation poisoning as a result of the Fukishima disaster, although this fear was repeatedly debunked.

However, much work remains to be done in understanding how the virus works, why it has suddenly become an epidemic, why certain sea stars are more susceptible than others, and what, if anything, can be done to help alleviate the problem.  There is still a long way to go before the epidemic may play out, but identifying the culprit is one large step in perhaps making a difference.

To learn more, visit:

or I will post the link to the original journal article when the link is working properly.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Velella Update!

Howdy folks,

If any of you are sad that you might have missed the By-the-Wind Sailors on your local beaches, never fear!  I am still getting lots of reports of these guys floating around in piles on the sea, as well as washing up on beaches in Washington and Oregon.

Here is a photo submitted by one of my readers, Cassandra D., of a pile of Velella in Brookings Harbor, Oregon.  Thanks Cassandra!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Surfrider/American Surfrider Beach Cleanup

Members and volunteers from the Oregon Surfrider Foundation, OSU's Coastal Society and the American Cetacean Society gathered at Nye Beach in Newport, Oregon on Saturday for a summer beach cleanup! Volunteers enjoyed coffee and donuts, as well as a fortuitous dose of great weather and sunshine to make the experience a fun one!

A hardy volunteer cleans up Nye Beach
A large amount of the debris gathered included those notorious plastic nurdles  which are very hard to clean up, and dangerous for animals which might consume them or be affected by toxins or heavy metals in the material.  (Always be sure to use glove when cleaning up plastics or trash on the beach!). Overall, we gathered 5 bags of trash which included everything to old grill parts, to beach toys, to plastic bags. 
A colander full of plastic bits, or nurdles from the beach
Both organizations plan to have further beach cleanups in the near future, as well as local monitoring outings for seastar wasting syndrome.  Watch my blog, or check out Oregon Surfrider , OSU's Coastal Society, the American Cetacean Society for future volunteer opportunities and events.  Give back to your beaches, have some fun, and get outside by volunteering!
Volunteering is fun!