During the last few weeks, some sea stars living at the Vancouver Aquarium began exhibiting early clinical signs of the same mysterious sea star wasting outbreak observed in the past couple of months in our local waters, as reported by the Aquarium’s Howe Sound research team.

The diseased sea stars at the Aquarium were quarantined in a hospital habitat for additional care and monitoring. To aid our continuing investigation of the disease outbreak affecting the local sea stars, we captured some footage of a quarantined sea star over a seven-hour period and sped it up to a one-minute video through a time-lapse camera.

This time-lapse video is an invaluable tool, and an important initial step in helping researchers gain a better understanding of the course of this sea star wasting disease.

The team investigating this disease outbreak is now international in scope. In addition to the Vancouver Aquarium’s Howe Sound research and veterinary teams, veterinarians and biologists from Alaska to California, as well as a large number of international experts including virologists, microbiologists, veterinary pathologist, and invertebrate zoologists, have joined the investigation. And this investigative team is growing day by day.

The samples collected at the Aquarium from our quarantined sea stars, as well as those collected in the wild by the Aquarium’s research team, have now been submitted for viral and bacterial sequencing at Cornell University. We will also be sending formalin fixed tissue this coming week to Cornell for histopathology (the study of changes in tissue due to disease).

While reports of sea stars affected by this outbreak continue to spread to other parts of British Columbia’s waters, the Aquarium’s research team continues to actively monitor Howe Sound. They are beginning to see some signs of recovery in places where sea stars were seen melting just a month ago.

The time-lapse video can be viewed below. An interesting note – the sunflower star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) is considered the “speed demon” of the sea star world, and habitually moves at a fast pace (almost two metres a minute on a flat surface).

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