12/28/2016 11:59 EST

Nova Scotia Herring-Killing Phenomenon Spreads To New Species

PLYMPTON, N.S. — Massive numbers of dead starfish, clams, lobsters and mussels have washed up on a beach in western Nova Scotia, compounding the mysterious deaths of tens of thousands of herring in the area.

Ted Leighton, an adjunct biology professor at Nova Scotia's University of Sainte-Anne, said social media photos showing bottom-dwellers strewn in the sand near Plympton, N.S., could be an indication that the phenomenon that has killed schools of herring in St. Marys Bay is possibly spreading to new species.

The retired veterinary pathologist, who has compiled more than 40 sightings of dead herring, says the new ocean-dwellers' deaths show it's time for experts to get to the bottom of "what's really going on."

Leighton says without firm information about what's killing the herring, it's hard to know whether new species could be vulnerable to the same forces.

He says some inferences can be made based on the broad swath of species that were swept ashore in the latest "pulse" of deaths.

Leighton says the only trait the fish share is where they live — the bottom of St. Marys Bay — so the answer may lie near the seabed.

He says a lethal lack of oxygen or toxic water contamination could wipe out all marine life in a habitat.

But Leighton says with only one data point, it's hard to know if the events are even connected.

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