PBS: Plague along West Coast has biologists fearing extinction of species — Experts: Take your kids to beach and see them before they’re gone; Worst outbreak ever known in the oceans; Catastrophic losses nearly everywhere we’ve been (VIDEO)

Published: October 15th, 2014 at 6:22 pm ET
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PBS Newshour, Oct. 14, 2014:

  • Pete Raimondi, lead scientist studying alarming epidemic killing starfish by the millions: “Almost everywhere we looked in the last year we’ve seen catastrophic losses”
  • Melissa Miner, UC Santa Cruz scientist: “Nope, I haven’t seen any [juveniles]… They get lesions and their internal organs start to spill out… that can happen within 24-48 hours”
  • Wasting syndrome affects almost every species of West Coast starfish. The plague has hit so hard over the last year, biologists fear some species could even go extinct.
  • Drew Harvell, Cornell Univ. epidemiologist: “This is the largest outbreak that we know of ever in the oceans — in terms of numbers of species affected, the geographic scale, the mortality… This is what we call a wide host range pathogen… it affects many different species — the most dangerous in wildlife disease, in terms of a potential risk of extinction… I expect in the next 2 weeks, we’ll lose virtually all the stars at this site”
  • And that’s exactly what happened. All the starfish that were here are now gone… Back in Sitka {Alaska], trouble is on the horizon.
  • Raimondi: “Without knowing the cause of these outbreaks, it’s impossible to tell whether the epidemic is nearly finished or whether another mass die-off is just getting started… this event is really frustrating — kind of scary”
  • After leaving Sitka, Raimondi and Miner began receiving disturbing reports. Healthy looking starfish they carefully counted just days before were suddenly losing arms and wasting away.
  • Watch the broadcast here

Taylor White, Sitka Sound Science Center: Every day I come in and I see more and more legs all over the tanks. It’s upsetting to see them just… start to crawl away from their bodies… We’ve been telling people to take their children out to low tide to see the starfish before they’re not there anymore.

Dr. Richard Ambrose, UCLA marine ecologist (7:00 in): When it hits, it seems to go through really, really fast. There were hundreds of thousands of sea stars… The scope… just is mindboggling. All the sea star species seem to be affected — even though it’s different species in British Columbia compared to the species we have here, and it’s in the sub-tidal and it’s in the intertidal… If it was temperature you might expect that in the intertidal they would be more affected because it gets warmer in the intertidal when it’s exposed. But we don’t see that. We see it just across sea stars in general, so whatever it is seems to not be as specific as the diseases that have affected the sea stars in the past. >> Watch the video here

Dr. Mike Schaadt, Cabrillo Aquarium (4:30 in): The animals have been compromised so much so, that the water-vascular system… dissolves to the point where none of it works… There’s been multiple events… none of them as big… I can’t remember any — from an area point of view or a devastating point of view — this seems to be the worst. >> Watch the video here

Watch video of the seafloor littered with sea star body parts here

Published: October 15th, 2014 at 6:22 pm ET
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