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False Climate Alarm: Starfish Babies Return In Droves To Pacific Coast After Massive Die-Off

Associated Press

Droves of baby starfish are returning to Oregon and Northern California’s shores after a wasting disease decimated whole populations of the creatures over the past two years along the West Coast.

Starfish babies return in droves to Oregon and California after massive die-off

Researchers in Oregon and Northern California are finding that droves of baby sea stars are returning to the shores after whole populations of starfish along the West Coast were decimated by a wasting disease over the last two years. photo laine Thompson / AP

Data collected by Oregon State University researchers shows an unprecedented number of baby starfish, or sea stars, survived the summer and winter of 2015, the Eureka Times Standard reported Saturday.

“When we looked at the settlement of the larval sea stars on rocks in 2014 during the epidemic, it was the same or maybe even a bit lower than previous years,” Oregon State University marine biology professor Bruce Menge said in a statement.

“But a few months later, the number of juveniles was off the charts — higher than we’d ever seen — as much as 300 times normal.”

A similar increase was found at sites just north of Trinidad, California, near Patrick’s Point State Park. A baby starfish boom also was noted in the summer of 2014 near Santa Cruz.

A virus killed millions of starfish on the Pacific Coast from Southern California to Alaska by causing them to lose their limbs and eventually disintegrate into slime and piles of tiny bones.

The cause of the massive outbreak remains unclear. Some have hypothesized it to be abnormally warm waters in the Pacific Ocean, which have wreaked havoc on marine ecosystems for the past two years.

Humboldt State University Marine Lab Director Brian Tissot disagrees with that hypothesis since the virus spread during colder months and didn’t expand as much during the abnormally warm 2015.

“There is no clear environmental cue,” Tissot said, adding the deadly wasting disease has declined in intensity but remains present.

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Reminder: Warming Temperatures Are Killing Millions of Starfish

Three years ago the West Coast of the United States was swept by the single largest, most geographically widespread marine disease ever recorded. This disease targeted millions of starfish along the coast causing the sea stars to decompose, as if they were melting. Millions of starfish were killed by this virus with some regions losing up to 95 percent of its starfish population. And a recent study has found that the rising water temperatures caused by climate change only exacerbated what was already a species crippling epidemic.

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