(NaturalNews) All up and down the West Coast of the United States, millions of starfish are turning up dead from a mysterious illness that experts have generally dubbed "starfish wasting disease," which involves the creatures' bodies shriveling up and turning into goo. According to reports, this mass die-off event, which is being recorded as far north as Alaska and as far south as Southern California, and everywhere in between, is the largest ever on record.
The mystery surrounding this inexplicable disease was the subject of a recent NBC Nightly News investigation in Monterey Bay, California, home of the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium. Two species of starfish that used to thrive in the cove next to the city have completely disappeared, prompting scientists and experts in marine biology to take a closer look at the situation beneath the water's surface.
"It's happened so rapidly that some species are just missing," said marine biologist Pete Raimondi, from the University of California, Santa Cruz, (UCSC) Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Raimondi and his team are in the process of collecting and analyzing starfish samples from around the area to look for patterns that might provide some answers to this enigma.
"Our group is looking to try to map the timing of the onset of the disease and locations of the disease up and down the coast so it will help us point to causes."
Researchers tiptoe around Fukushima disaster, the most likely cause of starfish wasting disease
While previous starfish die-offs reportedly occurred in the area back in the 1980s and 1990s, this latest event, which stretches thousands of miles along the Pacific Coast, is by far the most severe. Instead of just one species being affected, as was the case during previous outbreaks, every species of sea star is implicated this time around.
"Whatever it is that must be in the water is affecting our animals as well," added Dr. Michael Murray from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, explaining to reporters that some of the starfish being held at the aquarium have also fallen victim to the disease.
At this point, experts are investigating things like warmer water, lower oxygen levels and ocean acidification as potential causes of the strange illness, all of which could be legitimate culprits. But the biggest elephant in the room, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe, remains mostly untouched by the scientists investigating the situation.
"I've had probably 100 emails thus far saying, 'What about Fukushima, because of radiation?' ... We haven't ruled that out yet but we're clearly not ruling that in," opined Raimondi in politically correct ambiguity.
Loss of starfish could destroy delicate marine ecosystem, say experts
Regardless of the true cause, there is no denying that starfish wasting disease threatens to obliterate the delicate marine ecosystems of our world's oceans. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans are now harboring starfish afflicted with the strange illness, which points to a massive global outbreak.
"These kinds of events are sentinels of change," stated Drew Harvell, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University. "When you get an event like this, I think everybody will say it's an extreme event and it's pretty important to figure out what's going on."
For up-to-date information on the starfish situation, visit UCSC's "Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring: Trends and Synthesis" resource: http://www.eeb.ucsc.edu.