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Yet Another Venomous Sea Snake Washes Ashore in California (Where It Does Not Belong)

posted: 01/13/16
by: Danny Clemens
Yellow-bellied sea snake Jan 2016
City of Coronado

For the third time in a year, a venomous yellow-bellied sea snake (Pelamis platura) has washed ashore in California, which is noticeably far from its usual stomping ground.

The 20-inch snake was spotted in Coronado, California's North Beach on Tuesday afternoon, city officials say. Although the serpent was alive when lifeguards were alerted to its presence, it died shortly afterwards.

The city will turn the animal over to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography for research purposes.

There have only been four total reported California sightings of the elusive creature in three decades, three of which took place within the past year. The snake is generally found further south, and is relatively common throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Related: Missouri Snake's 'Virgin Birth' is Species' First

The Surfrider Foundation, which organized a December 2015 event where another snake was found, posits that changes in water temperature spurred by this season's strong El Nino likely "enticed" the animal to swim farther north than usual.

In the open ocean, the snakes can be found in groups of several thousand. According to the IUCN, the animals congregate just beneath debris slicks that "consist variously of debris, foam and scum brought together by converging water currents." The creatures feed on unassuming fish that seek shelter beneath the floating groups of serpents, which resemble floating driftwood from underneath.

The snake can live for up to seven months at at time without water. Because it cannot drink saltwater, the animal must wait for rainy season, when it rehydrates by drinking from a "freshwater lens that forms on the ocean surface during heavy precipitation," according to a 2014 study in Proceedings of the Royal Society.

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