Rise in deadly sea snake sightings puts Aussies on alert

There have been seven sea snakes found washed up along a stretch of the NSW coast in the past week, significantly more than usual.

An abnormal number of deadly sea snakes have been washing up along Australia's east coast with seven sightings reported in just one week.

Yellow-bellied sea snakes are "highly venomous" says wildlife veterinary nurse Belinda Donovan who was called to several beaches along NSW's south coast last week. "Their venom is neurotoxic and myotoxic," meaning a bite from one can cause paralysis and death, she told Yahoo News Australia.

The aquatic reptiles, which have distinctive yellow and black markings, were spotted by locals at various beaches along the stretch of coast starting from Jervis Bay down to Eden, some 300 km away. Alarmingly, six out of the seven of the locations are beaches that people frequent daily. Donovan, who works for Australian Seabird and Turtle Rescue (ASTR), warned for beachgoers to avoid them at all costs.

Yellow-bellied sea snakes on NSW beaches.
An influx of yellow-bellied sea snakes have been washing up on NSW beaches. Source: Mudgeroo Emu Farm & Animal Refuge/ ABC

Last week, a resident spotted another deadly sea snake at The Entrance on the NSW Central Coast. A video shared on Facebook by the ABC shows the venomous animal slithering along the sand. And in September, the same kind was spotted on a beach at Cronulla in Sydney's south.

'Uncommon' to see so many sea snakes washed ashore

Yellow-bellied sea snakes are the most pelagic of all sea snakes meaning they're usually far away from reefs and shorelines. And while it's not uncommon to "see one to two, maybe three a year" Donovan said it is unusual to have so many in a short period.

The reason for the influx of sea snakes washed ashore remains unknown, but she suggests "strong offshore winds or storms" could be to blame. "Usually they're exhausted [when they wash ashore] and have been struggling out in the open ocean," she explained saying they're usually always injured or unhealthy. But "we don't actually know the larger picture" and what's causing so many to wash ashore, she said.

Yellow-bellied sea snakes on NSW beaches. Source: Australian Seabird & Turtle Rescue South Coast Branch/Mudgeroo Emu Farm & Animal Refuge
Yellow-bellied sea snakes found on NSW beaches. Source: Australian Seabird & Turtle Rescue South Coast Branch/Mudgeroo Emu Farm & Animal Refuge

Aussies warned not to touch deadly snake: 'Can be fatal'

The wildlife rescuer said it's incredibly important that people know what to do if they stumble upon an abandoned snake as the wrong move could be fatal for a pet or human, as well as the snake.

There are a few simple things people can do if they notice a sea snake on the beach. "Number one is keep dogs and children away from the snake. That obviously ensures the safety of everybody else, but also the safety of the snake," Donovan explained. "What some well-intentioned people do is attempt to pick them up and return them to sea, and that can actually be fatal and most likely result in death for the snake. We want to avoid that".

"If you pick them up, besides being at risk of being bitten, the animal can suffer injuries like a broken spine. They also can't be held upright for very long because they're not being supported by water," she added. "Their blood pressure can actually be unstable if held in a tilted position."

All the sea snakes have gone into care with licensed and trained sea snake carers, ATSR confirmed. Residents are being urged to contact the animal rescue hotline on 0431282238 if another snake is spotted.

Love Australia's weird and wonderful environment? Get our new weekly newsletter showcasing the week’s best stories.

Banner reads 'What on Earth' with 'Subscribe to our new weekly newsletter' and a collage of images of australian natural wildlife.
Click here to sign up to our newsletter.