Starfish that thrive along the West Coast of the United States are losing their limbs and turning into slime and scientists have no clue. The condition is called "star wasting disease" and according to reports, 95 percent of the starfish population from California to Alaska is affected.
Ecologists and marine biologists will launch a study and survey the affected areas to determine the source of the problem. Experts from universities such as Cornelle, Brown, Roger Williams, and University of Rhode Island are exerting all efforts to pinpoint the pathogen.
"Their flesh deteriorates and there's nothing to hold them together. That's as technical as it gets right now," said taxonomist and diver Donna Gibbs of Vancouver Aquarium in an interview.
"A year after that we started seeing animals that have been exhibiting this 'wasting disease.' It appears to have [been] developing over the past few years," said Gary Wessel, a professor from Brown University, helping with the investigation.
Experts theorize that the most likely cause is a virus or bacterium and not chemicals or other environmental factors. They based their hypothesis on casualties observed in laboratories.
Experts describe the progression of the disease with the arm of an affected starfish turning white. The animal then drops the affected limb but then instead of growing a new limb, as how starfish will behave, the wound will remain unhealed and the disease spreads to the other arms. The starfish will then soften and fall apart.
According to a report by University of California Santa Cruz, the startling disease affecting sea stars were first noted in June.
"The first evidence of a possible wasting event came in June when Long-Term Monitoring sites in Washington (monitored by Olympic National Park) recorded diseased stars with percent affected rates between 3-26%. Symptoms of wasting disease in a few Pisaster ochraceuswere also noted in August at an intertidal Biodiversity site in Southeast Alaska. Articles from British Columbia, Canada report sightings of dozens of dead sea stars (notably Pycnopodia helianthoides) beginning in September, not far from Vancouver," the report stated.
The deadly syndrome were also noticed by divers in Puget Sound in Seattle in September. A starfish in a marine sanctuary in San Francisco also became ill.
The wasting syndrome also plagued starfish in Southern California in the 1980s but it was not as extensive as the latest occurrence, according to experts.