For the second time in two months, a “highly venomous” yellow-bellied sea snake has washed ashore on a Southern California beach, this time in Orange County.
The exotic reptile — seen only three times on the state’s shoreline in the past three decades — was found by a volunteer at a Huntington Beach Surfrider Foundation beach cleanup event on Dec. 12 at Bolsa Chica State Beach, according to the Museum of Natural History of Los Angeles.
Tony Soriano, the foundation’s chairman, said the 275 volunteers who had showed up for the beach cleanup initially did not realize what species the snake was, or that it was even venomous.
His son figured it out after doing a search on Google, Soriano added. After learning of the discovery, the curator of the Museum of Natural History contacted him.
Until the museum’s assistant curator showed up at Soriano’s home, he had kept the dead snake in a Ziploc bag in his refrigerator.
“That’s a rare find,” he said. “We had no clue what we had.”
The finding marks the third documented instance of a yellow-bellied sea snake washing up in Southern California. In October, the reptile — which lives its entire life in the ocean — was spotted at Silver Strand Beach in the Oxnard area.
The “highly venomous” black-and-yellow snake typically lives in warmer waters off the coasts of Mexico, Africa, Asia and Australia, according to a Facebook post from the Huntington Beach Surfrider Foundation.
Its appearance in Southern California was possibly a harbinger of El Niño, Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay stated in a blog post back in October after the discovery of the first yellow-bellied snake in the region in 30 years.
The first sighting was also during an El Niño phase. Experts have predicted the current El Niño, which has been described as “Godzilla-like,” to be record-breaking.
“There is belief that the El Niño temperature change could have enticed the creature to swim north in search of small fish and eels, which they use their venom to paralyze,” the Surfrider Foundation stated in its Facebook post.
The species can stay underwater for up to three hours and swims backward and forward.
Like the reptile found in October, the sea snake was deceased by the time a volunteer had found it, according to the post. It was unclear whether it was alive when it washed up on the beach.
Soriano pointed out that, as indicated back in November by climatologists, key locations of the Pacific Ocean were hotter than on record during the powerful 1997 El Niño.
As a result, the foundation this year has seen stranded seal pups from lack of food, scores of tiny red crabs covering the area’s shoreline and an increased number of shark sightings of the coast.
But he called the yellow-bellied sea snake “an extremely important find” in relation to El Niño.
The species is highly venomous, and anyone who spots one should not attempt to handle or interact with it, according to Heal the Bay. The organization requested back in October that if you do see one, take photos, note the exact location, and report the sighting to iNaturalist and Herp Mapper.