Scientists recently discovered that massive populations of starfish have been dying along the Western Coast of the United States due to a mysterious disease that causes them to tear themselves apart. The creatures’ arms begin to twist and then literally crawl away from their body, often causing their insides to spill out. According to a report by PBS News, most starfish die within 24 hours of contracting the disease, and scientists are unsure of how to help.
These gruesome self-inflicted deaths were first noticed last year in just one species, the sunflower starfish, but since then the disease has spread to 12 species. Known as sea star wasting syndrome, the disease is characterized by white lesions on the arms of the starfish, and seems to affect the sunflower starfish and purple sea star more often than most.
Entire populations have been wiped out in Puget Sound off the coast of Washington state, in the Salish Sea off Canada’s British Columbia, and along the coast of California. The mortality rate is estimated at 95 per cent, and has also been documented along the East Coast when a smaller outbreak killed a number of sea stars last year.
While many scientists believe that an exotic pathogen is responsible for the deaths, a few have also speculated that ocean acidification or even climate change could be to blame. Either way, no one is sure what is causing the disease. Scientists are currently using various methods to better understand the problem and potential solutions. They have also appealed to citizens tp report any sightings of dead starfish and their exact location on social media sites using the hashtag #SickStarfish.