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Mass sea star deaths off US west coast puzzle scientists

Published on Feb 2, 2014 6:23 AM

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Starfish have been mysteriously dying by the millions in recent months along the United States (US) west coast, worrying biologists who say the sea creatures are key to the marine ecosystem.

Scientists first started noticing the mass deaths in June 2013. Different types of starfish, also known as sea stars, were affected, from wild ones along the coast to those in captivity, according to Jonathan Sleeman, director of the US Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center.

"The two species affected most are Pisaster ochraceus (purple sea star or ochre starfish) and Pycnopodia helianthoides (sunflower sea star)," he wrote in a statement in December.

The sunflower sea star is considered among the largest starfish and can span more than a metre in diameter.

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