By Amanda Crater for (watch video below)

This can’t be good. News broke this week about a mysterious virus affecting millions of starfish along the West Coast from Mexico to Alaska. “Sea Star Wasting Syndrome” has been decimating more than 20 species of starfish for about a year, and scientists this week discovered the culprit which has been widely reported on.

melting starfish

Marine biology researchers investigating the virus linked to the “wasting” deaths of countless starfish are looking at what role environmental causes might play in the massive die-off. Scientists have identified the specific virus responsible for the ongoing devastation of starfish along the Pacific Coast of Canada, the United States, and Mexico, as reported by The Seattle Times did an in-depth report that said, “[I]t remains unclear if the pathogen’s current deadly spread is part of a complex natural cycle — or whether blame for this massive die-off is linked in some way to climate change, souring seas or other harm humans have inflicted on the ocean. Either way, the gruesome deaths are still spreading, confounding scientists and threatening to fundamentally transform marine systems along thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean coastline. This is the sea-star-removal experiment of the century. It’s pretty staggering,” said C. Drew Harvell, a marine epidemiologist from Cornell University based at Friday Harbor Labs on San Juan Island. “The ecological impact is going to be huge.And researchers still have no clue when the dying might end.”

From the Huffington Post article “Scientists Say They’ve Figured Out Why Starfish are Melting”:

sky-falling-123_515From Mexico to Alaska, starfish have been mysteriously melting for more than a year. When a starfish first gets sick, its arms pretzel up and white lesions form on its skin. Next, the starfish, normally plush with water absorbed to keep its shape, starts to deflate. Then suddenly, its limbs begin falling off. Once symptoms start, it can take only a fewdays for the starfish to disintegrate and die.

The illness has been dubbed “sea star wasting disease,” and it emerged and spread rapidly along the Pacific coast last year. But marine biologists only had a few hunches — global warming, perhaps? — as to what was causing the deaths of millions of these animals.

Now, a massive new study has narrowed down the cause of what’s liquefying this lynchpin species. The findings, from a diverse group of invertebrate biologists, geneticists, statisticians, veterinarians and virologists, were published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It’s a virus that’s sweeping the starfish, researchers say. In fact, it’s the first starfish virus ever discovered.


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