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Deadly Starfish Virus Spreading Along Pacific Coast, Causing Mass Wasting Event

Nov 13, 2015 12:19 PM EST
A deadly starfish plague has swept across North America's Pacific Coast.
(Photo : Flickr: Sarah Murray)

A deadly starfish plague has swept across North America's Pacific Coast. Colorful starfish have been are devouring themselves after being infected by a virus known as Sea Star Associated Densovirus (SSaDV). Over the past two years, millions of the iconic marine creatures have succumbed to this sea star wasting syndrome (SSWS).

In total, at least 20 different sea star species affected by the virus. When infected, starfish are overcome rapidly, according to researchers from the University of California Santa Cruz. Ultimately, SSaDV can lead to behavioral changes, lesions, elasticity loss, limb autonomy, and death characterized by rapid degradation or "melting." Generally, white lesions appear on the body before it begins to sag and deteriorate. 

Sick starfish can be seen along the coastline all the way from Mexico to Alaska, according to the Daily Mail. While the sea star disease has been around for nearly 70 years, the magnitude of the recent epidemic prompted further investigation.

"There's some trigger, probably an environmental trigger," Rebecca Johnson, a Citizen Science Research Coordinator at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco told Yahoo News.

A new app called iNaturalist enables people to report sightings of sick starfish by posting photos and information. Researchers will use this information to track the problem better.

As efforts continue, researchers have found themselves moving into a new phase of the wasting disease: assessing the ecological consequences of losing star fish species. 

Starfish, or sea stars, can be found throughout all of the world's oceans, ranging from rocky shores, to tropical coral reefs and even the deep-sea floor. There are nearly 2,000 known sea star species, though the most common varieties are those with five arms, for which they are named after. Starfish are also recognized for their ability to regenerate limbs. However, infected starfish also lose this ability. 

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Samantha on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13

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