Scientists in Washington state are conducting lab-based infectiousnesss experiments to understand how the epidemic is spreading.
The short answer is almost definitely no. Scientists do not see a connection between the massive die-offs of starfish along the Pacific shores of North America and Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Since we produced this story a few weeks ago and this
aired on the PBS NewsHour, it’s been shared worldwide and viewed online almost a million times.
Hundreds of viewers have left comments, many asserting that radiation must be what’s killing the starfish, or sea stars as scientists prefer to call them since they aren’t fish.
Some reasons scientists don’t think radiation is behind these die-offs:
The die-offs are patchy. This doesn’t line up with a giant plume of radiation moving across the Pacific. They’re popping up in certain places like Seattle and Santa Barbara and not in others, such as coastal Oregon, where there’s only been one report.
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Sites closer to the Pacific shorelines are being affected sooner than places farther out to sea. And there have not been reports of starfish die-offs in Hawaii or Japan. If Fukushima were the cause, it would stand to reason that starfish closer to the source would also be impacted.
Sea star wasting syndrome predates the Fukushima nuclear disaster. As sea star expert and Smithsonian National Museum researcher Chris Mah writes, some of the earliest accounts of sea star wasting took place in the late 1990s. The Fukushima nuclear disaster happened in March 2011.
Researchers in Washington state are conducting infectiousness experiments to learn more about how this syndrome is spreading. They’re narrowing down the possibilities and may be close to an answer. Before they make an announcement, they will have their research methods and findings reviewed by the larger scientific community.