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Sea Star Wasting Syndrome

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Mass Mortality Event

Sea stars are one of the most iconic animals on the coast of British Columbia. While you may not think of them as majestic, it’s difficult to imagine a rocky shore without them. They are one of the most accessible organisms we encounter in the wild: we draw them as kids, touch them in tide pools, and see them on the beach. Sea stars are more abundant and diverse in our waters than anywhere else in the world. 

The coast of British Columbia is currently experiencing a sea star mass mortality event, coined Sea Star Wasting Syndrome.  Recently, sea stars have appeared to be over-abundant throughout the Strait of Georgia, but divers began noticing sick and dying stars in early September 2013. The phenomenon seems to be affecting a number of species including purple stars (Pisaster ochraceus), pink stars (Pisaster brevispinus), mottled stars (Evasterias toschelii) and several others. However, the sunflower star, Pycnopodia helianthoides, appears to be the hardest hit species, with dense aggregations disappearing in a matter of weeks. The wasting syndrome may be a pathogen that affects several species in the same way, or there may be multiple agents at play. The underlying causes of the epidemic are not known. But through collaborations with veterinarians, universities, other researchers, and the public, we are working to understand the problem. 

Where Is This Happening? 

The Vancouver Aquarium’s Howe Sound Research and Conservation team is tracking this event by mapping observations of healthy and sick sea stars as illustrated below. 

This map shows observations of sea stars from the beginning of September to the present. Mouse over the Disease Categories in the legend to view the sites where each respective category has been observed (see the Disease Category Guide.)  

Please note that this map is based on observations only, and does not necessarily reflect the sequence of spread or the total extent of the syndrome. We are working to update the map as often as possible; however it should be noted that it is an ongoing work in progress.

Submit Your Data

We are asking local divers to help us by uploading their observations. Because our dive team cannot be everywhere at once, recreational divers are immensely helpful in expanding our geographic knowledge of the syndrome.  Knowing the chronology of which species are affected and where may help us understand the origin, spread and ecological implications of sea star wasting syndrome.

If you have seen sick or healthy sea stars on a recent dive, please complete this spreadsheet and then upload it along with any photos using the form below.  Thank you!

 
 
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