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Starfish are Mysteriously Dying

Update Date: Dec 28, 2013 12:14 PM EST

According to officials, starfish that live along the West Coast are mysteriously dying. The starfish are reportedly suffering from a mysterious health condition that started in June. The researchers who have been tracking the illness believe that it first started in Washington State and has spread to Sitka, Alaska and San Diego, CA.

"It's widespread, it's very virulent and it's unlike anything we've seen in the past," said Pete Raimondi, a marine ecologist at the University of California-Santa Cruz reported by USA Today.

Starfish that are infected with the illness start to "turn into goo." Researchers have observed that starfish infected with the illness can die within 24 hours. The illness affects other sea creatures, such as sea urchins and sea cucumbers. However, the illness appears to hit starfish the hardest. Roughly 12 different types of starfish species are at risk.

"[The animals first] look a little bit odd," said Mike Murray, director of veterinary services at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, CA. "Their arms may be twisted or weirdly positioned. It's almost like they're melting. They turn into slime or goo, they just kind of disintegrate."

Don Noviello, a member of the kelp Krawlers Dive Club in Olympia WA, added, "It's like they become zombies of the sea. I saw a leg walking away by itself."

"We've had populations go locally extinct overnight. Literally. Some species go from completely fine to a mush ball in 24 hours," Benjamin Miner, a professor of marine biology at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA said.

The researchers are now trying to find the cause so that they can treat the situation as effectively as possible. Groups that are involved with the research include the National Wildlife Center, Cornell University and many universities in Canada.

Raimondi said, "The niche they fill is vital. If they die off, the ecological communities they live in could change fundamentally."

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