A mysterious disease known as Starfish Wasting Disease is causing starfish off the west coast of the United States to disintegrate, Fox News reports. Many of the starfish that have found to be infected by the degenerative disease have disintegrated to nothing but a pile of goo.
The disease has existed off the coast of the United States for at least 40 years, though it is likely that the disease existed for a significant length of time before scientists discovered it in 1972. Historically, Oregon was the only state on the west coast without any reported cases of the deadly disease. As of 2014, however, the disease has spread to the coast of Oregon.
The gruesome wasting disease causes starfish to cross their arms, fold in on themselves, go completely limp and eventually break apart as their tissue decays. This process often lasts only a few days, which is remarkably fast for a deadly disease to take full effect.
This disease is generally rather localized, though this outbreak has been widespread. At this point, the entire west coast of the United States is seeing high volumes of starfish with the degenerative disease, and scientists “really have no idea what the pathogen is, what the mode of transmission is”, according to Bruce Menge, a marine biologist at Oregon State University.
Menge contends that “40 to 60 percent of the (starfish) population (off the coast of United States is) showing signs of wasting,” making this a particularly deadly outbreak.
The manner in which the sea stars have been meeting their demise has been rather dramatic. Dr. Menge has seen the disease take effect first hand.
“We’ve seen a number of cases where all that’s left (of the starfish) is a puddle of their skeletal parts and a bunch of bacteria eating away at the tissue.”