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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

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Sea Star Epidemic Plagues Oregon

Posted On June 23, 2014 by

Since June 2013, millions of sea stars along the West Coast have disintegrated and died. Scientists have relentlessly tried to identify the cause of the “sea star wasting syndrome.” (See map of locations with outbreak.)

Typically, the first signs of an afflicted sea star are white lesions appearing on its body. Shortly thereafter, sea stars lose their limbs and their internal organs disintegrate. Although sea stars have the ability to regenerate limbs, the disease often progresses too quickly for them to recover. The exact cause of this disease is unknown. Scientists believe that sea star wasting syndrome may be due to a viral or bacterial infection, and could be exacerbated by increased water temperature. Populations of the ochre and sunflower sea stars, two common West Coast species, have been hit especially hard. Similar die-offs have occurred in the past, but never at the magnitude we see today, and over such a wide geographic area.

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Pearls of Wisdom: Answer

Posted On May 13, 2012 by

TRUE: Sea stars have an eye on the end of each arm. (Called an ocellus, it’s one of the simplest eyes in the animal kingdom and has no cornea or lens.)
TRUE: Sea stars have two stomachs. (Food begins in the cardiac stomach and moves to the pyloric stomach.)
FALSE: Sea stars have a water vascular system that filters toxins from the water.

While sea stars do have a water vascular system for movement, it does not filter water. The system consists of tons of tiny tube feet on their underside that suck up and force out water, creating enough hydraulic pressure for sea stars to move across the ground. Since there is no way to filter the water, they are extra vulnerable to water pollution; Think of sea stars next time you are choosing whether to use eco-friendly detergent for your laundry. For more tube feet awesomeness, watch the above video from the Seattle Aquarium.