They Were Dying by the Millions. Now, a Creature Comeback

Starfish are popping up again on the West Coast
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 27, 2017 8:30 AM CST
They Were Dying by the Millions. Now, a Creature Comeback
This July 31, 2010, file photo, shows a starfish clinging to a rock during low tide in Cannon Beach, Ore.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Starfish are making a comeback on the West Coast, four years after a mysterious syndrome killed millions of them. From 2013 to 2014, Sea Star Wasting Syndrome hit sea stars from British Columbia to Mexico. The starfish would develop lesions, then disintegrate, their arms turning into blobs of goo. The cause is unclear, but researchers say it may be a virus, per the AP. Now, however, the species is rebounding. Sea stars are being spotted in Southern California tide pools and elsewhere, the Orange County Register reports. "They are coming back, big time," says Darryl Deleske, an aquarist for LA's Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. "It's a huge difference. A couple of years ago, you wouldn't find any." Similar die-offs of starfish on the West Coast were reported in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, but the latest outbreak was far larger and more widespread, per a report by University of California-Santa Cruz researchers.

Beginning with ochre stars off Washington state, the disease spread, killing off mottled stars, leather stars, sunflower stars, rainbows, and six-armed stars. It hit Southern California by December 2013. "When it did [arrive], you just started to see them melt everywhere," says Deleske. "You'd see an arm here, an arm there." The recovery has been promising. Four adult sea stars, each about 7 to 8 inches long, were spotted this month at Crystal Cove State Park in Newport Beach. The stars aren't out of danger yet, though. The wasting syndrome never completely disappeared in Northern and central California, and it's reappeared in the Salish Sea region of Washington, per a recent report. Still, "it's good to see we have some surviving and thriving," an educator at Crystal Cove Conservancy says. "Maybe the next generation will be more resilient."

(More starfish stories.)

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