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Starfishes Dying of "Starfish Wasting Syndrome”

Update Date: Feb 05, 2014 09:19 AM EST

Millions of starfish along the U.S. West Coast from Washington to California are dying of a less-known illness being called "Starfish Wasting Syndrome." Initial cases of the new diseases were identified last year in the June, but it is still mysterious to scientists. 

The sickness starts on the starfish's arms, causing white lesions and the halt of their regenerative ability. The lesions then spread quickly and within days the fish is dead. 

"What we currently think is likely happening is that there is a pathogen, like a parasite or a virus or a bacteria, that is infecting the sea stars and that compromises in some way their immune system," said Pete Raimondi, chair of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology, at the University of California, Santa Cruz, according to Philly

Only purple sea star and sunflower sea star is the most affected species. However, the mortality rate is around 95 percent in the populations hit with the disease. 

Similar outbreaks have also been observed in East Coast starfish last year. According to scientists, the illness is known since 1983 but the affected population was never at this level. 

Starfish have the ability to shed their limbs to guard itself from outer danger. But in due course of time, after getting affected by the disease, these become so vulnerable and weak that it becomes completely incapable for it to regenerate arms. 

Sea stars have been observed to play vital role in maintaining the coastal ecology. These feed on snails, mollusks, barnacles, mussel and other small sea animals. The decline in population of the sea star would result in the increased population of mussel which is a disturbing element of ecological balance. 

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