For the first time in over thirty years, a yellow-bellied sea snake has washed ashore on the Pacific coast of California. The snake was spotted in Oxnard, CA – about 60 miles from the World of Wonder Headquarters in Hollywood. And it’s all El Niño’s fault. The unusual warmer water we’ve had in Southern California is similar to the warmer water the yellow-bellied sea snakes normally call home in areas of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. In fact, the last time this species was seen in California was during an El Niño year.
Bob Forbes, a resident of Oxnard who stumbled across the snake, took photos before putting the snake into a bucket with water and taking it home. He said, “I didn’t want some young kid not knowing what it was … pick it up and possibly get injured.” The snake died soon after. Dr. Paul Barber, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA, told Huffington Post:
Because the water is so warm here now, these snakes can swim, hunt and reproduce just like they could in the northern part of their tropical range. Simply put, they are here because the warmer El Niño conditions have expanded the range of suitable environmental conditions for this snake. This has also happened with other marine species like hammerhead sharks.
He said the snakes will likely go back to where they came from when the water cools back down. Dr. Barber also said that even though their venom is “very, very potent,” they aren’t naturally aggressive and only bite if they are handled or feeling defensive. If you see one, take a photo and notify Heal the Bay, but DON’T TOUCH!