Range of Lobster “Epizootic” Shell Disease Spreads As Oceans Warm

Lobsters join sea stars and oysters as disease and acidification take their toll on marine species.

lobster disease moves northLobsters have joined the growing list of marine life threatened by the deterioration of the ocean ecosystem

A bacteria that eats away at lobster shells has been afflicting the southern New England fishery since the 1990′s with 25 – 33% of lobster catches exhibiting the disease. Lobsters with shell disease are easy to spot, with deep, fairly disgusting lesions taking over the shell. Biologists agree that the warming waters of the ocean are the primary cause. Now, according to just-released joint research from Cornell University, the University of Puget Sound and Northeastern University, the disease is slowing increasing in frequency and also moving up the coast into the Maine shellfish fisheries.

Part of a disturbing pattern
While lobsters are not yet in danger of disappearing on a global basis, the increasing range of the shell disease is entirely consistent with the inexorable collapse of ocean systems. If you acquire news in the random way most people do, you may come across an alarming report or two, but most people note these and move on. Putting them all together in one place, however, leads to a disturbing conclusion: the seas are changing very rapidly, and the condition of marine life along the entire spectrum of the food chain is deteriorating. While there the natural world is always evolving, it doesn’t usually evolve this fast.

The web of Ocean life is unraveling.

The most recent disturbing reports include:

  • Bivalves (Oysters, etc) especially in the Pacific Northwest. The acidifying waters are preventing young oysters from forming shells.
  • Arctic marine mammals (whales, sea lions and dolphins). Toxic algae blooms are moving north, introducing neurotoxins into the environment.
  • Starfish. Most of two species along the Pacific coast were wiped out in 2014.

    While not the root cause of the mortality events, warming waters in every case increase the probability of disease and death.

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