Sea star wasting syndrome found in seven specimens in Freshwater Bay
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Rachele Brown of Bonney Lake displays a sun star infected with a wasting disease Thursday at the Feiro Marine Life Center in Port Angeles. Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGLES — A survey of sea stars in Freshwater Bay found seven sea stars — or about 4 percent of those surveyed — infected by sea star wasting syndrome.

Twenty-one volunteers scoured rocks around Freshwater Bay on Saturday, seeking sea stars affected by the disease, which causes the many-limbed creatures to lose their arms and eventually “melt” into a white sunstance.

The survey found seven infected sea stars out of 163 sea stars located and catalogued by location, species and size, according to the Feiro Marine Life Center report released Wednesday.

Five species of sea stars were found in the survey areas: ochre, blood, sunflower, mottled and rainbow stars.

Most of the infected were in deeper areas of the bay.

Only one of the infected sea stars, a blood star, was found in the intertidal area, which is exposed during low tide, out of 122 sea stars catalogued there.

Six were found in the subtidal area — which, though relatively shallow, remains underwater during low tide.

Two volunteer snorkelers who surveyed the subtidal area counted 41 sea stars and found that six — three sunflower stars, two ochre stars and one blood star — were diseased.

A second survey of sea stars is set for 2 p.m. Feb. 25, with volunteers gathering at the Freshwater Bay boat ramp.

The February survey will look for signs that the disease is spreading, holding steady or decreasing.

The survey will take about two hours. Volunteers should bring rubber boots and wear warm layered clothes that can get dirty and wet.

To register for the survey, phone Helle Anderson at 360-808-4984.

There are several outbreaks of sea star wasting syndrome on record: in Maine in 1972 and in California in 1978, 1983 and 1997.

It was most recently found in June on the Olympic National Park coastline, and by September, it was found in isolated bays from British Columbia to Southern California.

The disease was found in July among sea stars on the East Coast between Maine and New Jersey.

It was first seen in the Port Angeles area in December, when a sea star in the tanks in the Feiro building on City Pier was found to be infected.

It isn’t known what causes it, but it is associated with warmer-than-usual water temperatures, according to a study by Amanda Bates, Brett Hilton and Christopher Harley published in the Diseases of Aquatic Organisms in 2009.

The study also found that the spread of the disease is faster and more severe in protected bays and inlets.

The Feiro center now has several infected sea stars, which are kept in an isolation tank.

One sunflower star is severely affected, and several rainbow stars are showing early signs of the disease, said Deborah Moriarty, executive director of the center.


Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at

Last modified: January 30. 2014 7:22PM
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