El Nino brings venomous sea snakes to California beaches
Sunday, October 18, 2015, 4:05 PM - Rising sea temperatures on account of a significant and strengthening El Nino is bringing some unwanted visitors to the beaches of California.
Highly venomous yellow bellied sea snakes have been spotted washing up on the sands of Ventura County this week, alarming local residents.
Several sightings have been reported in a span of a few days. On Thursday evening, surfer Bob Forbes captured footage of a sea snake lying on a local beach.
"It looked lethargic when I approached," Forbes told CNN. "I touched it lightly and it started to move." Fearing that children might come across the aquatic snake, Forbes placed it inside a five-gallon bucket with some ocean water and alerted local wildlife experts.
But despite Forbes' composure during the seaside encounter, the discovery of a potentially deadly animal on foreign soil has locals and experts concerned.
Yellow-bellied sea snakes are normally found in warm tropical waters closer to Baja California and Central America, and the discovery of the serpent is a record event for southern California. "It is the northernmost sea snake ever documented in the Pacific Coast of North America," according to Greg Pauly, curator of herpetology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
It's been nearly 30 years since a sea snake has been spotted anywhere along the California coast. That's because waters in the area are quite cool due to upswelling in the eastern Pacific, which draws cold water from the depths of the ocean and brings it up to the surface.
Enter El Nino.
The onset of the system is proving to have ununsual effects on where wildlife is popping up these days, allowing animals, such as sea snakes, to ride warm ocean currents across the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Warmer water temperatures are bringing more tropical species to California, including hammerhead sharks and tropical fish.
As of September's monthly tally, water temperatures along the central part of the equatorial Pacific Ocean have climbed even higher. The one-month average for September is now second only to the "super El Niño" of 1997.
The yellow bellied sea snake, a descendant from Asian cobras and Australian tiger snakes, has some of the most poisonous venom in the world. It can remain under water for up to 90 minutes.
Although venomous, yellow-bellied sea snakes are generally harmless when left alone. Bites to humans are rare and normally occur when people try to touch or pick up the snakes.
A local nonprofit environmental group, Heal The Bay, is cautioning local residents to avoid any contact with the infamous serpent, asking anyone who sees one to report it.
The snake pictured in the video above died shortly after being taken to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services office in Ventura. "The species is entirely aquatic," Pauly said. "Seeing a yellow-bellied sea snake wash ashore indicates that the animal is most likely ill or injured."
With files from Scott Sutherland
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