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For months, marine biologist Pete Raimondi and his team have been diving in these waters, searching for clues to an epidemic called starfish wasting syndrome.
The mysterious disease has decimated starfish populations in the coastal waters and tide pools along the West Coast, from Alaska to Southern California. In some cases, 95 percent of the sea star population has been wiped out.
"Two months ago, these species that are missing now were plentiful," Raimondi said. "And over the last two months, they've disintegrated and they're basically missing from this location."
"Everything is on the table because we don't know what's causing it," Murray said.
"I've had probably 100 emails thus far saying, 'Well, what about Fukushima because of radiation?' Raimondi said. "We haven't ruled that out yet, but we're clearly not ruling that in."
CBS News: 100s of whales in bay on California coast; It’s never been like this, we just can’t even believe it — Experts: We just aren’t sure what’s going on; “A once-in-a-lifetime chance… unheard of, it’s unbelievable, nobody’s seen this” (VIDEO)
November 30th, 2013 at 4:22 pm ET
Whale Expert near Vancouver: In 30 years I’ve never ever seen this kind of behavior, “They must sense this is a safe place to be” — Captain: I’ve never seen anything like it in 50 years on Pacific — “One even placed its head on the boat” (VIDEO)
November 30th, 2013 at 11:14 pm ET
CBS News, Nov. 27, 2013: [It's] blowing away even avid whale watchers such as Karen Sheffer. “It’s never been like this” she said. “This is phenomenal.” [...] There are also dolphins and hundreds of sea lions. They are chasing an unexplained explosion of anchovies in the bay. Killer whales showed up to hunt the sea lions. “There’s easily over 100 to 200 whales in Monterey Bay,” said Nancy Black, a marine biologist and the captain of a whale watching boat. “So this is like, you know, so exceptional we just can’t even believe it.” [...] “So I’m just trying to tell the people how lucky they are to really witness this,” Black said. She knows this sea-life show will eventually end. For now, she says, just enjoy the view.
I notice someone can't resist the connection to Fukushima. That would be interesting, if radiation detection on the West Coast had any supporting basis whatsoever. It hasn't though..not yet anyway, if ever. So scratch that concept unless it's some new form that detectors cannot detect. Otherwise, that source should have made for an extremely short investigation if it had been there.
Hmm... Have we considered natural occurrence? Just a thought, and it's as likely or unlikely as anything else by the sound of it, but mass die offs are a part of nature and always have been. Hard to say what man made source would account for a wipe out of one specific life form across over 1,000 miles of coastline at once.
Odd things out there, to be sure. Odd things and odd happenings... Life is never boring.
URI scientists leading effort to identify why starfish are dying
When University of Rhode Island graduate student Caitlin DelSesto collected starfish in Narragansett Bay for an undergraduate research project in 2011, she was surprised to watch as the animals appeared to melt and die in her tank within a week. After bringing it to the attention of URI Professor Marta Gomez-Chiarri, she learned it was among the first observations of a new disease that is now affecting starfish – also called sea stars – from New Jersey to Maine.
Thanks to a grant from the Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council, the URI researchers are collaborating with scientists at Brown University and Roger Williams University to try to identify the cause of the disease.
“There was a big increase in sea star numbers about three or four years ago,” said Gomez-Chiarri, “and often when you have a population explosion of any species you end up with a disease outbreak. When there’s not enough food for them all it causes stress, and the density of animals leads to increased disease transmission.
Sea Star Wasting Syndrome
Sea star wasting disease is a general description of a set of symptoms that are found in sea stars. Typically, lesions appear in the ectoderm followed by decay of tissue surrounding the lesions, which leads to eventual fragmentation of the body and death. A deflated appearance can precede other morphological signs of the disease. All of these symptoms are also associated with ordinary attributes of unhealthy stars and can arise when an individual is stranded too high in the intertidal zone (for example) and simply desiccates. “True” wasting disease will be present in individuals that are found in suitable habitat, often in the midst of other individuals that might also be affected. The progression of wasting disease can be rapid, leading to death within a few days, and its effects can be devastating on seastar populations.
The ultimate cause is not clear although such events are often associated with warmer than typical water temperatures as was the case for the major die off in southern California in 1983-1984 and again (on a lesser scale) in 1997-98. Following the 1983-1984 event, the ochre star, Pisaster ochraceus, was virtually absent along southern California shorelines for years.
Seeing sea stars - and lots of them
While theories abound about why starfish populations appear to be spiking, scientists acknowledge it is largely a mystery. Radical population shifts occur naturally in scores of species, from lynx to lobster. Yet researchers are only now unraveling the complex relationships and influences that govern their cycles of abundance.
It's not clear how widespread the invasion is because so few scientists study starfish. News of the population uptick is coming via reports from divers, fishermen, and spring beachgoers. State divers in Buzzards Bay were startled two weeks ago to find vast carpets of starfish - each creature 4 to 5 inches across - stretching 100 yards along the sea floor. Some fishermen in Narragansett Bay are hauling up an increasing number of starfish. Workers dredging contaminated shellfish in upper Mount Hope Bay between Rhode Island and Massachusetts also are seeing more. And last week at Scusset, overjoyed children armed with nets and buckets scooped up dozens of smaller starfish to show parents and take home as mementos.
"It's really cyclical," said Terry O'Neil, a Massachusetts marine fisheries biologist who came across a giant pack of starfish on top of bay scallop beds in Buzzards Bay two weeks ago. "I've never seen so many starfish there before," he said, "but I have seen it in Cape Cod Bay - and the next year they are gone."
Pacific Ocean Heat Content During the Past 10,000 Years
Observed increases in ocean heat content (OHC) and temperature are robust indicators of global warming during the past several decades. We used high-resolution proxy records from sediment cores to extend these observations in the Pacific 10,000 years beyond the instrumental record. We show that water masses linked to North Pacific and Antarctic intermediate waters were warmer by 2.1 ± 0.4°C and 1.5 ± 0.4°C, respectively, during the middle Holocene Thermal Maximum than over the past century.
Both water masses were ~0.9°C warmer during the Medieval Warm period than during the Little Ice Age and ~0.65° warmer than in recent decades. Although documented changes in global surface temperatures during the Holocene and Common era are relatively small, the concomitant changes in OHC are large.
It has been theorized that the major cause of bleaching is the result of chloroplast damage due to heat stress, which results in the production of toxic, highly reactive oxygen molecules during photosynthesis.
Warm weather sets the stage. According to the National Weather Service, March temperatures in areas like Negaunee, Iron River and Houghton in the Upper Peninsula, were an average of 20 degrees warmer in 2012, 49 degrees, than they were this year, which averaged 29 degrees. In Alpena, Rogers City, Pellston, Petoskey, Charlevoix and Traverse City in the upper Lower Peninsula, March temperatures were 15 degrees warmer in 2012, 42 degrees, than they were in 2013, which had an average of 27 degrees for the month. Those numbers mean the ice sheets on Lake Michigan melted much sooner than normal, removing the barrier that would otherwise block the sun’s rays and prevent algae from forming until much later.
The culprit appears to be a bacteria that flourishes in warmer water. In Southern California, the putrefying bacteria last flourished in 1983-84 during an El Nino, a period of temporary ocean warming that occurs intermittently in the Pacific.
According to a 2012 study of global water temperatures, nearly 90 percent of the excess heat added to the Earth’s climate since the 1960s has gone straight into the oceans. Average surface temperatures have risen 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit, and increased water temperatures were recorded even at depths of 2,950 feet. Now, scientists studying the effects of warmer waters on fish populations have found that warmer oceans are making fish more lethargic, which is likely to affect their ability to catch food or reproduce.
Species after species is moving because the air, land and sea are warming. And the Lowcountry — the farthest north reach of sub-tropical climate on the East Coast — could see changes more quickly and more severe than other areas.
Associated Press: The turbine buildings at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant are about 150 meters (500 feet) from the ocean. According to a Japan Atomic Energy Agency document, the contaminated underground water is spreading toward the sea at a rate of about 4 meters (13 feet) a month. At that rate, “the water from that area is just about to reach the coast,” if it hasn’t already, said Atsunao Marui, an underground water expert
It is happening on the East Coast as well and unlikely to be radiation from Fukushima. This is a known effect with starfish and other invertebrates (also being affected) but the cause isn't always known, where the starfish skin is damaged somehow and causes lesions and eventually limbs to fall off, generally they recover but that isn't the case this time and it's happening in extremely alarming numbers.
Some scientists at some universities aren't allowed to attribute bad things to climate change anymore but that is likely what this is... acidifying oceans harming their skin beyond regenerative capabilities, bacteria dividing faster in warmer waters and overwhelming immune response or parasites thriving in warmer waters.