A rare and venomous yellow-bellied sea snake was hanging on the beach by the 18th Street lifeguard tower Tuesday. The 25-inch female was spotted by strollers who saw it slithering weakly along the sand. The beachgoers alerted lifeguards, who oversaw its extrication off the beach.
The snake was brought to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center (PMMC) in Laguna Beach, then picked up by researchers at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. According to marine biologists, the snake was sick, and euthanized a day after it was discovered.
“When they get washed up on the beach, it’s because they have no energy to swim back,”Greg Pauly, associate curator of herpetology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County told the Orange County Register. “They get so sick and their body temperatures get so low. They have such a unique lifestyle and would require a huge tank. They do not do well in captivity, so there was no option.”
The yellow-belied sea snake, usually found swimming in tropical waters off Mexico and Central America, is only the fifth of its kind documented on California’s shores and the first-ever discovered outside of an El Niño event.
Previously, in January 2016, a yellow-bellied sea snake was on a beach in Coronado. December 2015 saw one at Bolsa Chica State Beach and in October of 2015, a yellow-bellied sea snake was spotted on Silver Strange Beach in Oxnard, the farthest north a snake of this kind has ever been found. The first yellow-bellied sea snake showed up in San Clemente in 1972. Outside of these five instances, there are no other known appearances of the venomous reptile.
The venom yield of a yellow-bellied sea snake is classified as low but considered extremely dangerous to humans. A bite by this snake requires immediate medical treatment.
Officials at PMMC are concerned that a yellow-belied sea snake in Newport Beach could signal trouble for local sea lions that frequent the sand and swim the seas. They also attribute its presence to warmer-than-usual ocean waters, potentially caused by a shifting climate.
The snake is now part of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County’s permanent collection and it will be studied for its implications to the marine population of Southern California and its connection to climate change.