Have you seen a snake in the ocean? Ever wondered how these snakes differed from the ones found on land? These amazing animals have been entertaining scuba divers throughout the Indo-Pacific Ocean for years, long before sea snakes became the subject of one of our most popular viral Facebook posts. Let’s learn a little about these often-feared but truly fascinating creatures with some sea snake facts.
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Here are 12 sea snake facts to answer all your questions about these curious reptiles.
1. There are 69 species of sea snakes.
While divers usually only see a handful of sea snake species during their time underwater, there are actually 69 identified species. To keep things simple, scientists separate these species into two categories: true sea snakes and sea kraits. True sea snakes spend almost all their time at sea, while sea kraits split their time between land and sea.
2. It’s all about the tail.
While it’s impractical to analyze the DNA of every snake-like creature you come across, an easy way to identify sea snakes (from their land-based cousins) is by their paddle-like tails. Their flat tails help sea snakes propel themselves gracefully through the water, but these appendages do make them slightly clumsier on land.
Pro Tip: Many people confuse sea snakes with eels. The most reliable way to differentiate between the two is to look for the presence of a dorsal fin. Eels have a ridge or fin that runs the length of their bodies, while sea snakes do not.
3. There are no sea snakes in the Atlantic Ocean.
Sea snakes live in the tropical and subtropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They are not found in the Atlantic Ocean or the Caribbean Sea. Sea snakes are also not found in areas of high salinity, such as the Red Sea.
4. Sea snakes have been around for millions of years.
The first sea snakes began to evolve about six to eight million years ago in Southeast Asia’s Coral Triangle. However, most species only evolved one to three million years ago.
9. They can dive deeper than scuba divers.
In fact, sea snakes can dive to depths of up to 800 feet (250 meters) in search of prey. Most sea snakes, however, prefer to stay in the shallows, relatively close to shore.
10. Sea snakes need not worry about breathing in water.
Most sea snakes have evolved valve-like flaps they can move over their nostrils when underwater. This prevents them from breathing in any salty water. (If only scuba divers could evolve in the same way!)
11. Sea snakes are highly venomous.
You may be wondering, “Are sea snakes venomous?” The answer is, yes, sea snakes are highly venomous. In fact, many sea snake species have more venom than the average cobra or rattlesnake.
However, bites are extremely rare. Sea snakes are surprisingly docile and usually only bite when threatened or compromised. Fishermen sustain most of the world’s recorded sea snake bites. These mostly occur when they need to remove sea snakes from their nets or accidentally step on them in the water.
12. Some sea snakes are close to extinction.
While most sea snakes are not endangered, some species are present on the IUCN Red List. The Laticauda crockeri is listed as vulnerable, and the Aipysurus fuscus is endangered. Of most concern, however, are the Aipysurus foliosquama (Leaf-scaled sea snake) and the Aipysurus apraefrontalis (Short-nosed sea snake), both of which are critically endangered.
Climate change, bycatch and low reproductive rates are the main causes of sea snake population decline. You can help by getting involved with awareness and fundraising campaigns that support global change. Consider signing up to become a nadechworld.com Torchbearer and join our movement of ocean lovers making a difference to marine life and oceans worldwide.
Aren’t sea snakes fascinating? If you’re interested in observing sea snakes during a scuba diving trip, you’ll need to travel to the Indian or Pacific Oceans. The Philippines, Indonesia and Australia are great destinations for diving with sea snakes. Just remember to treat these venomous animals with respect. As with all marine life, keep your hands off, don’t touch and maintain good buoyancy.
If you are not yet a nadechworld.com Diver, learn about getting scuba certified, or book your next vacation to dive with sea snakes.