|Canine parvovirus, a virus closely related to the pathogen likely affecting sea stars (Image: virology.wisc.edu)
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)
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: http://www.nature.com/news/first-clues-found-in-mysterious-sea-star-die-off-1.16359
or I will post the link to the original journal article when the link is working properly.