A Seattle diver was shocked after discovering well over 100 dead sea stars washed up on the beach in the Brace Point area of West Seattle this weekend.
The sea stars were located on a small section of beach by underwater explorer and videographer Laura James, who immediately began filming and documenting the area.
“We don’t know what is causing it, and this is just what you see on the surface. The underwater images are even more devastating,” James told Storyleak.
James worries what the die-off will mean for the ecosystem of Washington state’s Puget Sound, given the sea star’s dominant role in maintaining ecological balance.
“The sea stars that are dying are apex predators of the seafloor and a keystone species,” James said. “What will be interesting is what will happen to the biodiversity now in the aftermath.”
James’ discovery follows the disturbing reports of “melting starfish” being found all along the West Coast of North America. Biologists in Seattle began collecting the sunflower starfish late last month to be sent for testing with other specimen already collected in Canada. Only days later, the same melting phenomenon was discovered in California as well.
According to James, it is currently unclear whether her discovery is directly related to the melting, although a few sea stars appeared to exhibit possible symptoms.
“At least two had white mottling and short legs, but it’s not clear to me that it is the melting,” James said.
Although scientists have yet to release a consensus on the cause, several theories have begun circulating ranging from disease to the deteriorating nuclear situation in Japan. At this time James says more testing needs to be done in order to find the cause, but does not believe Fukushima is directly related.
Regardless of the cause, all theories playing a collective role in West Coast wildlife, which continues its disturbing trend, remains a large possibility.
Just last August, independent Canadian biologists discovered herring bleeding from their gills, bellies and eyeballs around northern Vancouver Island. That same month, members of Canada’s aboriginal community began reporting historically low returns of Skeena River sockeye salmon.
Last year, polar bears, walruses and seals in Alaska began appearing with open sores on their skin as well as large patches of missing hair. The following month, hundreds of Alaska Airlines flight attendants filed a formal complaint after developing skin lesions and hair loss as well.