"Wasting has been known for a long time, but usually it's very localized to a single site or single region," Menge said. When that's the case, as it was last August just north of Vancouver, British Columbia, the chances for recovery are high since the plankton, or floating forms, of the sea stars from healthy, nearby populations can recolonize those areas that were hit.
"The thing that is worrisome now is that it's happening pretty much all along the West Coast, even up into Alaska," Menge said.
In this widespread outbreak, Oregon seemed to be a lucky outlier. "We were hoping that for some weird reason we were going to miss out on it. We were optimistic," Menge said. "It finally did hit, and we really have no idea what the pathogen is, what the mode of transmission is. "
Mystery disease The cause of the wasting disease is unknown, though scientists working on the mystery are testing whether an underlying virus or bacteria is to blame, along with some environmental stress, such as water temperature or salt content, making the organisms more vulnerable to it.