HASH(0xbfdf6c)

Sunflower sea star nearly wiped out by virus in B.C., Washington waters: report

Die-off of sea stars a special concern: report

  • Oct. 26, 2016 2:00 p.m.

VANCOUVER — There was once a galaxy of sunflower sea stars in the Salish Sea off the British Columbia and Washington state coasts, but a new study says their near disappearance from the ocean floor should be of special concern.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, say a wasting disease that impacted many star fish from Alaska to Mexico was devastating for the sunflower sea star.

Joseph Gaydos, one of the report’s authors and the chief scientist with the SeaDoc Society, said the sunflower that covered the ocean floor in many areas off southern Vancouver Island and Washington state has been virtually wiped out.

“We’re really concerned that one could completely disappear,” he said in an interview.

The West Coast is renowned for its 28 varieties of sea stars, some not found anywhere else in the world. In 2013, divers and researchers started noticing the star fish were dying from a disease that experts couldn’t figure out.

Three years later, they believe a virus is at fault, but Gaydos said there may also be other factors such as water temperature that makes certain star fish more susceptible.

The study, which was released Wednesday on the online science journal PLOS ONE, says the virus is the largest such disease epidemic affecting multiple species of marine organisms in the world.

Gaydos said it’s like a canine distemper virus that tears through the Serengeti region of Africa, killing everything from lions to jackals.

“There are some diseases out there that affect multiple different species, but we haven’t really found one in the marine environment that has had this much impact.”

But the die-off of the sunflower, a tire-sized, multi-legged, colourful orange or purple star fish, could have other implications, Gaydos said.

“They’re major predators, they eat almost anything they can get a hold of, everything from urchins to mussels, to other sea stars and they’ll even scavenge. I saw a picture from a diver where one was eating a bird that had died.” 

Researchers saw evidence of increases in red and green urchins, which feed on kelp, Gaydos said.

“Kelp is like a forest, creating a matrix for all the other species to live in, an ecosystem engineer.”

He said scientists have been in discussions with the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service to have the sunflower listed as a species of concern, an informal term referring to a species that may be in need of conservation.

The next step after that is to speak with the Canadian government, he said.

The researchers don’t know why the sunflower was especially susceptible to the wasting disease while others, such as the leather sea star, seem to be thriving.

Gaydos said it could be the species’ high volume at the start of the disease that contributed to the die-off. The sunflowers were once so plentiful in the area they were piled on top of one another and covered entire areas.

“That can contribute to stress, it can also contribute to ease of transmission.”

 

 

Terri Theodore, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous story misspelled Gaydos.

Just Posted

Welcome to Victoria, where a street can have four names

From Oak Bay to View Royal, street names change as the roadways twist and turn

Port Renfrew man charged with animal cruelty

Hot coffee poured on dog’s face, say police

Sooke cougar sighting unconfirmed

Boy had a close encounter with the big cat

Central Saanich makes moves to alieviate business transit concerns

Councillor calls for enhanced service and long-term transit passes

Garbage piles up at Mount Doug Park in Saanich

Local resident blames the design of the garbage bins

VIDEO: B.C. MLA Michelle Stilwell takes first steps in nearly 30 years

‘It actually felt like walking. It’s been 27 years… but it felt realistic to me’

Report of dead body in B.C. park actually headless sex doll

This discovery, made at Manning Park on July 10, led police to uncovering two other sex mannequins

Grand Forks fire chief found to have bullied, harassed volunteer firefighter: report

WorkSafeBC, third-party human resources investigation looking into allegations complete

Taekwondo instructor, 21, identified as B.C. bat rabies victim

Nick Major, 21, an instructor at Cascadia Martial Arts in Parksville

15-year-old with imitation gun caused ‘dynamic’ scene at Nanaimo mall

No one was harmed in Monday’s incident, say Nanaimo RCMP

B.C. on right road with tougher ride-hailing driver rules, says expert

The provincial government is holding firm that ride-hailing drivers have a Class 4 licence

RCMP investigating alleged ‘sexual misconduct’ by cyclist on BCIT campus

BCIT said they were reviewing video evidence of the incident

New home cost dips in B.C.’s large urban centres

Victoria, Kelowna, Vancouver prices decline from last year

Graphic suicide scene edited out of ‘13 Reasons Why’ finale

Suicide prevention groups support the decision

Most Read