Well, it was a nice idea…

After arriving home to Ithaca on Wednesday night, Elliot and Ian waited anxiously for the sea stars to arrive – two days late and evidently in rough shape. Overnight a staff member from fedex had communicated that the boxes had been almost flattened (squished) in transit, and that there was “a little water” left.

At 10:30 this morning the fedex delivery finally arrived, and we were, for lack of a better word, speechless. I’ve never seen boxes delivered in worse shape – they were completely mishandled. Someone must have dropped these from the side of a plane (or they survived a plane wreck… who knows).

FullSizeRender IMG_3643 IMG_3637 Something tells me the packages were dropped from a significant height…

Nervously, Ian and Elliot unpacked the bags in which the animals had been placed, which were – remarkably- still intact less two which had clearly exploded. However, all the bags were at room temp (~ 60 degrees) and the animals looked lifeless.

FullSizeRender1 That color isn’t right – and they’re not at Unalaskan temperature any more.

After about an hour’s acclimation in the aquarium room (46 degrees F), we poured out all the water and introduced the sea stars to the holding and quarantine tanks. Sometimes animals do come to life after shipping, and we just want to make sure they’re all dead before we dispose of them.

FullSizeRender5 FullSizeRender4

Dead, lifeless Pycnopodia in our tanks. No signs of movement…

After 3 hrs, only a very small handful of sea stars showed any signs of life, including 2 Solaster stimpsonii and 3 Evasterias troscheli. Sadly, looks like the vast majority (almost all) of our sea stars were dead, and the remainders in rough shape. Certainly not enough on which to perform experiments.

FullSizeRender8 FullSizeRender7 FullSizeRender9 FullSizeRender10FullSizeRender6 Some are alive, but barely so. They’ll probably die in the next couple of days.

What can be learned from this? Well, its difficult to know how we could have better shipped the animals. The only way onto/off of Unalaska is via PenAir, a local affiliate of Alaska Airlines. They got the animals out on the first available shipment on Monday, and by all accounts were fine as they overnighted in Anchorage (can’t help the weather delays). It seems that FedEx was the problem – something happened between Anchorage and Ithaca whereby the shipment was almost destroyed, which went on to cause the delay in delivery. Had we received the animals a day ago, it would have been different.

So what do we do now? Thats also a tough one. We’ve now lost our opportunity to obtain live SSaDV and disease-free sea stars for the forseeable future (and probably forever; the disease is on the Alaska Peninsula and marching west). We’re scratching our heads on how to do experiments on animals that are already exposed to a pathogen. One thing we did get out of this whole ordeal are more samples for determining SSaDV presence/load, which isn’t really that useful.

Next up on this project: Obtaining juvenile sea stars from diseased populations, and spawning adults that already have the virus.

So sorry Alaskan Stars – we did all we could but it just looks like what we were trying to do is impossible. We are certainly very sorry to have indirectly caused the death of 42 of these amazing animals for no reason. Not to mention using up a bunch of our grant in the process. But that’s science, I guess…

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