A poisonous yellow-bellied sea snake drifted ashore on Tuesday at Newport Beach. The species is not typically found in Southern California and rarely ventures on land. The Pacific Marine Mammal Center and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles warned on Thursday that the snake’s encroachment into California waters could mean that rising water temperatures will bring more of the venomous reptiles into the area.
Only four other sightings of yellow-bellied sea snakes have been recorded in California history. Previously, snakes drifted ashore in 2015 and 2016 at Oxnard, Coronado and Bolsa Chica State Beach. Scientists state that this is the first visit from the species in Southern California that has not coincided with an El Niño effect. The Pacific Marine Mammal Center warned that this unexpected visit could indicate a drastic shift in marine life migration patterns due to warming sea temperatures.
Southern California also saw an uptick in sea lion strandings in the latter half of 2017. Such strandings typically coincide with periods of higher-than average water temperature. Scientists fear that these signs point to another cycle of warm water similar to the one in 2015 and 2016 that claimed an unprecedented number of sea lion lives.
Yellow-bellied sea snakes typically live their whole lives at sea and never come ashore. The poisonous snakes inhabit warm tropical waters from East Africa to Hawaii and Central America. The snakes mainly hunt by floating on the surface of the ocean and kill their prey by injecting them with venom. The majority of humans who have been bitten by the yellow-bellied sea snakes are fishermen who accidentally catch the snakes in their nets.
The stranded sea snake was considered too ill to survive and was euthanized by animal control officials on Wednesday. Herpetologists took a DNA sample from the snake and identified it as a female. The snake’s body was given to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles where it will be studied and displayed. Scientists also asked beachcombers to be on the lookout for more of the distinctive yellow snakes, so they can track the reptiles’ new migratory patterns.