This marks the 5th time since 1972, and the 4th since 2015, that a yellow-bellied sea snake washed up on a California beach.
A beachgoer in Newport Beach, Calif. happened upon a yellow-bellied sea snake (Pelamis platurus) which washed ashore near the popular surf break known as “The Point,” near the 18th Street lifeguard tower south of the Newport Beach pier. The 25-inch long adult female was in such a weakened state she was euthanized by Newport Beach animal control.
“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 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 discovery marks the fifth time that a yellow-bellied sea snake is known to have washed ashore in the last 45 years. It also marks the first time the species washed ashore in an off El Niño year. The first yellow-bellied sea snake known to wash ashore on a California beach occurred in 1972. There were two strandings in 2015 (Huntington Beach and Silver Strand Beach in Ventura County) and another stranding in 2016 in San Diego, Calif.
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"Oceans are warming and the species that respond to that change will be those that are the most mobile," Pauly told The Los Angeles Times. "So the big question now is this: Are sea snakes swimming off the coast of Southern California the new normal?"
The reptile is normally found in Baja California waters, and off the coasts of Africa, Asia, Australia, and Central America. The waters off Southern California have cooled considerably and are now in the high 50s to low 60s, too cold to sustain the species.
"A few more of these sea snake sightings in Southern California," Pauly told The Los Angeles Times, "and we'll have a pattern telling us that something remarkable is happening in our ocean and the species it supports."
The yellow-bellied sea snake is the only pelagic sea snake. If you are bitten by this venomous snake, you can experience damage to skeletal muscles, paralysis and renal damage. Bites though are rare and nobody has been reported to have died from a bite of this species.