Studying sea star wasting syndrome

Massive-scale monitoring and research of the sea star wasting disease is happening along the West Coast because of collaborations between University scientists, state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations, school groups, and the general public.  These collaborative research and citizen efforts are essential for understanding the sea star wasting syndrome.


PISCO investigators are quantifying the extent of sea star wasting and ecological impacts, as part of our long-term ecosystem research program.  PISCO and the Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network collaborate to track the progression of the sea star wasting syndrome.

Updates and background are available at 

Most recent update March 13, 2015

Over the past year, much of the research effort has focused on documenting the progression of sea star wasting along the West Coast of North America and across a range of sea star species. That effort continues. We are also now moving into a new phase in the assessment of sea star wasting: the ecological consequences from the loss of these species.  In particular, we are focusing efforts on understanding changes in ecological communities where sea stars have been affected and the population replenishment rates of young sea stars.  

Thank You Ocean PodCast



Check out's podcast video, featuring PISCO investigator Pete Raimondi (UC Santa Cruz) talking about the latest coast-wide efforts.  (May 16, 2015)



What is it? 

Sea star wasting syndrome has been impacting west coast populations of sea stars since summer 2013. A recent paper (2014) by Cornell University researcher Ian Hewson and a number of collaborators provides evidence for a link between a densovirus (SSaDV) and sea star wasting syndrome, but there is still much work to be done before this mysterious disease is fully understood.  Scientists are now working to understand the causes for this disease outbreak, such as possible environmental triggers like warmer waters.  

Healthy ochre sea stars, Pisaster ochraceus

Cluster of live ochre star Pisaster ochraceas. This is how healthy populations appear.  Photo:  Jane Lubchenco

A sea star with wasting syndromeThis ochre star is suffering from Wasting Syndrome.  Photo:  PISCO-OSU graduate student Elizabeth Cerny-Chipman

“Wasting Syndrome” is a general description of a set of symptoms that are found in sea stars.  Symptoms can progress rapidly- sometimes within days.  Lesions and tissue decay appear on the arms and body of the sea stars.  Eventually, parts can fall off (such as an arm separating from the body) and lead to death.  It’s important to recognize that these are also symptoms of unhealthy stars when they are in a stressful environment—such as being stranded too high in the intertidal on a hot day. The current outbreak along the West Coast is “true” wasting disease, meaning that sea stars have these extreme symptoms while in suitable “healthy” habitat.   

Find out more at


Effects can be devastating on sea star populations.  Two of the hardest hit species are also top predators, called “keystone species” in the rocky reef systems:  the ochre star “Pisaster ochraceus” and the sunflower star “Pycnopodia helianthoides”.    Monitoring groups have documented Wasting in Pisaster ochraceus from Alaska through California (see interactive map at  Two common attributes for many of the sites are: (1) the period prior to Wasting was characterized by warm water temperatures, and (2) the effects are dramatic.  Some evidence from the few areas in California where we have both intertidal and subtidal survey data suggests that the effects of wasting syndrome may be more severe in the subtidal. 

Citizen science efforts

Because this wasting syndrome is so extensive along the West Coast, assistance from educational institutions, non-profit organizations, and other groups is critical to helping track the spread of the disease in the intertidal and subtidal.  These contributions:

  • provide essential data on areas that have not yet been surveyed to-date, or have been under-surveyed. 
  • improve our ability to track the spread and impact of the syndrome on sea star populations and aid in documenting recovery.  

To get involved:


The pisco Research Team

Pete Raimondi, UC Santa Cruz, PISCO and MARINe Principal Investigator

Bruce Menge, OSU and PISCO Principal Investigator

Carol Blanchette, UC Santa Barbara and PISCO Principal Investigator

Mark Carr, UC Santa Cruz, PISCO Principal Investigator

Jennifer Caselle, UC Santa Barbara, PISCO Principal Investigator

Melissa Miner, UC Santa Cruz  MARINe 

Rani Gaddam, UC Santa Cruz  MARINe

Melissa Redfield, UC Santa Cruz MARINe

Mike Frenock, OSU, PISCO program and MARINe special projects data manager

Brittany Poirson, OSU PISCO

Avrey Parsons-Field, UC Santa Barbara PISCO

Christopher Teague, UC Santa Barbara PISCO

Jenna Sullivan, OSU PISCO (Graduate student)

Elizabeth Cerny-Chipman, OSU PISCO (Graduate student)




Tracking the Syndrome with an interactive map

See our frequently updated map for all observations and collaborating groups:

In the News

This issue has garnered extensive media attention.  Click here for links to many recent articles and other press.

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