What is even more startling is the way the creatures perish — by quickly dissolving in a phenomenon the aquarium has dubbed Sea Star Wasting Syndrome.
“They have disintegrated, and now there is just goo left,” says research diver and taxonomist Donna Gibbs.
But she says that young starfish have been seen in the same area that look healthy, providing hope that the population could rebound.
Aquarium staff say they have had trouble gathering specimens for testing since some starfish that looked healthy in the ocean were goo by the time they reached the lab.
A similar string of starfish deaths was reported in July in the North Atlantic from New Jersey to Maine.
In both the British Columbia and Atlantic areas affected by the die off, there had been a population bloom of the creatures in recent years.
“We think it is disease. It is overpopulation and pestilence,” Gibbs told Global News. “The numbers grew so out of control and then a disease hit them and just wiped them out. That is what we think. We are not sure yet, but that is the first thought.”
Photo: Vancouver Aquarium