Professor finds virus in mass sea star die-off
The Western Front
December 1, 2014
After a year of mass mortality among sea stars along the Pacific coast, a Western biology professor has a new hypothesis for what could be the largest recorded deaths in history of these sea creatures.
Western professor Ben Miner co-authored a study published Monday, Nov. 17, that aimed to determine what has been killing sea stars from southern California to southern Alaska.
“The best evidence currently found is that it is a virus,” Miner said. “There are other hypotheses that are consistent, but there is definitely a virus involved.”
Miner’s hypothesis is that the presence or absence of the virus, called densovirus, is not what determines whether the sea stars get sick, though it may be weakening their immune systems, Miner said. Many sea stars that have the virus are not sick, he said.
Miner started the study over a year ago in collaboration with senior Warren Kohl and Cornell University professors Ian Hewson and Drew Harvell to look at the mass wipe out of a variety of species of sea stars up and down the Pacific coast, Miner said.
“The general consensus at the moment is that the virus is not responsible for killing the star,” Kohl said. “Instead, it seems the general consensus is that the virus weakens the sea stars’ immune system causing bacterial infections to take over, almost as if it’s sea star AIDS.”
With these kinds of outbreaks, there is generally a pattern, Kohl said. The disease starts up in spring and continues throughout the summer where people start to notice the sick sea stars. By winter, fewer stars are affected, he said….