Marine biology researchers investigating the virus linked to the "wasting" deaths of countless starfish are looking at what role environmental causes might play in the massive die-off.
Scientists have identified the specific virus responsible for the ongoing devastation of starfish along the Pacific Coast of Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Now, they are looking at factors in the ocean ecosystems might make these sea animals vulnerable to the pathogen.
From the Seattle Times' in-depth report:
[I]t remains unclear if the pathogen's current deadly spread is part of a complex natural cycle — or whether blame for this massive die-off is linked in some way to climate change, souring seas or other harm humans have inflicted on the ocean.
Either way, the gruesome deaths are still spreading, confounding scientists and threatening to fundamentally transform marine systems along thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean coastline.
"This is the sea-star-removal experiment of the century. It's pretty staggering," said C. Drew Harvell, a marine epidemiologist from Cornell University based at Friday Harbor Labs on San Juan Island. "The ecological impact is going to be huge."
And researchers still have no clue when the dying might end.