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Scientists baffled by massive starfish die-off in B.C.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Brian Gratwicke/Flickr

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Brian Gratwicke/Flickr

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    Monday, October 7, 2013, 8:18 PM -

    Sunflower sea stars have almost completely vanished from the waters surrounding Vancouver, and scientists can't explain why.

    Experts first became aware of the problem two months ago, upon discovering that the sea stars were disintegrating on the ocean floor.

    Researchers have had difficulty pinpointing the cause because sea stars appearing to be in good health are turning into "goo" by the time they reach the lab.

    Disease is the most likely cause. In recent years, the sea star population has exploded, leading to overcrowding in some places.

    This may have created the perfect conditions for an illness to develop and spread.

    Donna Gibbs, a research diver and taxonomist, told The Canadian Press that the unknown epidemic has been killing off the starfish at an alarming rate.

    "They’re gone. It’s amazing," she told the news agency.

    "Whatever hit them, it was like wildfire and just wiped them out."

    Other species of starfish appear to be affected as well.

    Members of the public are being asked to help monitor the disease. Sea star deaths can be reported to the Vancouver Aquarium at fishlab@vanaqua.org.

    With files from The Canadian Press

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