Something is killing starfish up and down the West Coast and no one knows what.
A mysterious illness that first appeared in June in Washington state has now spread from Sitka, Alaska, to San Diego. Starfish first waste away and then "turn into goo," divers say. Whatever is causing it can spread with astonishing speed — a healthy group of starfish can die in just 24 hours.
"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 who is one of the lead researchers in an international effort to track the outbreak.
The ailment seems to hit starfish the hardest, with smaller numbers of sea urchins and sea cucumbers reported falling to it. No one knows what percentage of the West Coast's starfish are affected but in some areas they've been wiped out.
So far at least 12 different starfish species are known to be at risk, Raimondi said.
Marine biologists call starfish "sea stars" because they are not actually fish, but invertebrates. They've dubbed the ailment "sea star wasting syndrome."