Venomous Yellow-bellied Snake, Rare to California, found Dead in Huntington Beach
A poisonous yellow-bellied washed ashore Thursday in Huntington Beach has been found dead, Surfrider Foundation said. Before this, the extremely venomous snake has been seen only twice in California.
The snake was found by a volunteer who was cleaning up Bolsa Chica State Beach with 274 other individuals. The volunteer put the snake in a zip lock bag and took it home to store in the refrigerator. The reptile was found to be a poisonous species when the volunteer’s son examined the snake’s species.
Tony Soriano from the Huntington Beach Surfrider Foundation said no one really thought the snake is a dangerous species. None of the volunteers had any idea that they found a dead extremely venomous snake, yellow-bellied sea snake, Soriano added. The man gave the snake to the Museum of Natural History for further analysis.
Experts said the snake is very poisonous and if people see another yellow-bellied sea snake, they should report about it. They also warned people not to touch it as it could be dangerous.
The discovery of the yellow-bellied sea snake is surprising because the reptile usually found in warm waters in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It is capable of swimming backward and forward. The poisonous snake can also stay underwater for over three hours.
The Surfrider Foundation experts believe the snake likely came to Bolsa Chica State Beach because of El Niño. The foundation wrote on Facebook, “There is belief that the El Niño temperature change could have enticed the creature to swim north in search of small fish and eels, which they use their venom to paralyze”.
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It's the first time the snakes have been spotted alive and healthy since disappearing from their only known habitat on Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea more than fifteen years ago.
"This discovery is really exciting, we get another chance to protect these two endemic Western Australian sea snake species," says study lead author Blanche D'Anastasi from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at JCU.
"But in order to succeed in protecting them, we will need to monitor populations as well as undertake research into understanding their biology and the threats they face".
The discovery of the critically endangered short nose sea snake was confirmed after a Western Australia Parks and Wildlife Officer, Grant Griffin, sent a photo of a pair of snakes taken on Ningaloo Reef to Ms D'Anastasi for identification.
"We were blown away, these potentially extinct snakes were there in plain sight, living on one of Australia's natural icons, Ningaloo Reef," says Ms D'Anastasi.
"What is even more exciting is that they were courting, suggesting that they are members of a breeding population."
The researchers also made another unexpected discovery, uncovering a significant population of the rare leaf scaled sea snake in the lush seagrass beds of Shark Bay.
The discovery was made 1700 kilometres south of the snakes only known habitat on Ashmore Reef.
"We had thought that this species of sea snake was only found on tropical coral reefs. Finding them in seagrass beds at Shark Bay was a real surprise," says Ms D'Anastasi.
Both leaf scaled and short nosed sea snakes are listed as Critically Endangered under Australia's threatened species legislation, which means they have special protection.
Despite the good news of the find, sea snake numbers have been declining in several marine parks, and scientists are at a loss to explain why.
"Many of the snakes in this study were collected from prawn trawl by-catch surveys, indicating that these species are vulnerable to trawling," says Dr Vimoksalehi Lukoschek from the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.
"But the disappearance of sea snakes from Ashmore Reef, could not be attributed to trawling and remains unexplained.
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