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A mysterious disease that is wiping out sea star populations in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico is 'exploding' off the coast of Oregon in the U.S.

Sea star disease on the rise in Oregon

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Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Friday, June 6, 2014, 5:38 PM - A mysterious disease that is wiping out sea star populations in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico is 'exploding' off the coast of Oregon in the U.S.

"This is an unprecedented event," Bruce Menge, a professor of marine biology at OSU, said in a statement. "It's very serious. Some of the sea stars most heavily affected are keystone predators that influence the whole diversity of life in the intertidal zone."

In May the disease -- which causes sea stars to disintegrate -- was linked to a pathogen but scientists say they know little about the disease or how to prevent it, adding that it could be part of a natural cycle.

The fact that the infection has entered Oregon waters is particularly concerning as the region was spared when it spread through California, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska last year.

RELATED: Fukushima radioactivity found in Oregon, Washington state tuna

Now, the number of affected sea stars in Oregon has skyrocketed from 1 percent in April to 50 percent, with the highest concentration at Fogarty Creek north of Depoe Bay, according to the Associated Press.

The  pathogen -- dubbed 'sea star wasting syndrome -- was first reported in August 2013 upon the grim discovery that sea stars were disintegrating on the ocean floor, turning into "goo" by the time they reached the lab for analysis.

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 back in May.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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

Other species of sea stars have been affected as well, resulting in a massive die-off involving millions of creatures between British Columbia and Mexico.

While the disease largely remains a mystery, scientists do know that it is an efficient killer with a mortality rate of about 95 percent.

While scientists aren't sure what caused the outbreak they've ruled out radioactivity from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

With files from The Canadian Press and AP

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