Scientists are baffled by a newly-discovered plague that is decimating many of the world's starfish by causing the creatures to literally tear their own bodies apart.
The disease, the source of which is still unknown, seems to trigger a bizarre reaction in the animals, making their limbs move independently in opposing directions until their bodies literally rip themselves apart. While a healthy starfish can regenerate missing limbs, those afflicted by the plague do not heal themselves. PBS News Hour recently ran a story on the phenomenon, interviewing researchers in Washington state, where the first corpses began to appear. (Watch the full interview in the clip below.)
“There were just bodies everywhere,” said diver & marine photographer Laura James. “They were just like splats. To me, it always looked like somebody had taken a laser gun and just zapped them and they just vaporized.”
Experts are concerned that mass deaths of starfish – important predators in the food chain – could have a catastrophic impact on marine ecologies. They're reaching out to the public for help, encouraging the use of social media in reporting on sick or dead specimens.
“Take a picture of any starfish you find when you’re out tide pooling or just walking on the beach,” James explains, “and hashtag it #sickstarfish. Then we can look at it when it pops up on the map. We may not be able to stop it, and we may not be able to fix it, but we need to be aware, so that we can recognize it when it happens again.”