Just two months after a highly venomous sea snake called the yellow-bellied sea snake was found washed ashore on a California beach, we now have reports of another specimen from the same species appearing on a Southern California beach. According to an ABC News report, a dead yellow-bellied sea snake that washed up on an orange County beach was spotted by a group of volunteers on a beach cleanup event on December 12.
While it is abundant in other parts of the world, the yellow-bellied sea snake is an extremely rare animal to be found in California. In fact, there have been only three confirmed sightings of the snake in the region in the past three decades. Two of the sightings happened in the last two months alone.
As already mentioned, this specimen of the yellow-bellied sea snake was spotted by one of the volunteers at a Huntington Beach Surfrider Foundation beach cleanup event. The Museum of Natural History of Los Angeles has confirmed that the snake wa spotted at the Bolsa Chica State Beach, on December 12. According to Tony Soriano of the Huntington Beach Surfrider Foundation, there were as many as 275 volunteers on the beach when the snake was found. Initially, the volunteers were unaware what kind of snake it was and did not realize it was venomous. However, there was no real danger since the animal was already dead. It was only after a google search by Soriano’s son that they figured out that the snake was a rare visitor. As the report of the snake spread, Soriano was contacted by the curator of the Museum of Natural History. Soriano, in the meantime, collected the snake and preserved it inside a Ziploc bag in his refrigerator.
It was back in October that the last sighting of a yellow-bellied sea snake was reported from California. Back then, the animal was spotted at the Silver Strand Beach in the Oxnard. It was highly unusual for the animal to be seen in California as it is normally found in the warmer parts of the world — usually off the coasts of Australia, Southern Asia, and Mexico. The yellow-bellied sea snake also lives its entire life in the ocean and never ventures out to land. While it does breathe air and needs to come to the surface to inhale, it can stay up to three hours underwater.
Yellow-bellied sea snakes can be easily distinguished by their black and yellow color as well as their flattened tail — which makes it easy to tell it is not a land-based snake.
While the yellow-bellied snake is not known for aggressive behavior, it does have a highly-potent venom. The venom can cause damage to skeletal muscles and lead to paralysis and kidney failure. However, no documented cases of a bite from the yellow-bellied sea snake have been recorded so far. Notices are already being issued asking people to stay away from these snakes if they come across one.
Several scientists believe the appearance of these snakes in California is due to the El Niño phenomenon. Earlier this year, there have been thousands of orphaned, starving seal pups washing up on California beaches. There has also been an increase in shark sightings in the region — all thanks to El Niño effect.
In case you are a regular beach-goer living in California, you might want to report any sightings of the yellow-bellied sea snake to iNaturalist or HerpMapper. It would also be wise to take photographs of the snake and report the exact location where you saw the snake. Do not under any circumstances try to handle the snake — even if it is visibly dead. A bite could be fatal.
[Image By Aloaiza Via Wikimedia Commons]