As a rare sea serpent washes ashore in Coronado, California, scientists are wondering what is going on in the Pacific Ocean that would make so many yellow-bodied sea snakes surface onto the beaches. Sightings of the ocean snake are so rare that the last one made in the area was during the 1980’s, yet in the last several months, beach combers have stumbled upon multiple samples of these sea creatures.
The first recent sighting occurred back in October of 2015. A non-profit environmental advocacy group called Heal The Bay announced the discovery and asked for the public to help gather data about the sea creature. They also noted that beach walkers needed to be careful of the “incredibly venomous” sea serpent.
“The Yellow-bellied Sea Snake has some of the most poisonous venom in the world, and is a descendant from Asian cobras and Australian tiger snakes,” stated the Facebook post by Heal the Bay’s senior coastal policy manager, Dana Murray. “Your data will be used to confirm this El Nino as the first time in 30 years this fascinating animal has been in our waters. The information you provide could be published in scientific journals, in which your sighting will be mentioned as well as your name if you desire.”
The second sea serpent washed ashore on Silver Strand Beach near Oxnard. Photos were taken quickly, but it washed back to sea. A day later, another beach walker saw another yellow-bellied sea snake on the same beach, so it was assumed it’s the same sea serpent. The third sighting was made by 275 volunteers who showed up to clean the sandy beaches as part of the Huntington Beach Surfrider Foundation. Both sea serpents died before scientists could get to them, but both samples were donated to the Museum of Natural History of Los Angeles.
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The latest sea snake to wash ashore in California occurred on January 12, 2016 at Dog Beach in Coronado, California. According to the Los Angeles Times, a beach walker alerted a nearby life guard, who deposited the live sea serpent into a bucket, where it died soon after. The latest sample of the yellow-bodied sea snake will be given to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography by the city of Coronado.
Greg Pauly, herpetological curator at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, told the newspaper that the public should not worry about a sea serpent invasion.
“It is incredible and fascinating to have two of these aquatic, highly venomous snakes suddenly show up around here,” he said. “But this is not an invasion, and no one has ever died from the bite of this animal. Their fangs are tiny and they can barely open their mouths wide enough to bite a person. So, unless you pick one up, the biggest safety concern with going to the beach is with driving there and then driving home.”
Scientists find this sudden boost in yellow-bodied sea snake sightings to be fairly surprising, but they do have a theory to account for the sightings. Experts are already blaming the weather, saying that it’s the El Nino weather pattern which is causing these sea serpents to be found. Before 2015, the last time a rare sea serpent washed ashore was back during the early 1980’s, which also happened to occur during an El Nino weather phase.
Pauly notes that the really strong El Nino weather is certainly a factor, because the warmer sea surface temperatures cause creatures like the yellow-bodied sea snake to go further north than usual. But he also points out that waters of Southern California specifically are being affected by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO. There’s also these oddball “blobs” of warm water which are hovering nearby.
The blob is actually three different blobs — some really unusual areas where really big chunks of the ocean off the coast of North America are much warmer than usual,” Pauly said, according to Live Science. “And normally, what happens is that sea-surface temperatures cool during the winter months, but there are these three areas where the temperatures are staying warmer than normal by several degrees.”
If anyone stumbles upon another sea serpent on the beach, experts are saying take photos and videos then report it to the authorities. Just remember: look, don’t touch, because the yellow-bodied sea snake’s bite packs a mean wallop with its neurotoxin.
[Image via City of Coronado]