Sea snakes are some of the most unusual and mysterious reptiles on the planet and their known range is limited to the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
I have however uncovered a series of interesting reports in the Gulf of Mexico along the Texas/Louisiana border.
In response to an earlier entry here at The Wildlife Journalist® another report came in-this time from Florida.
Last year in August (2017) we were on a family vacation. We went down to the beach and got I’m in the water and not two minutes later my 11-year-old started yelling snake. I still couldn’t see it. So he pointed at it and followed it out the water. It went down the beach 20 or 30 yards and back in the water. It was only a baby but definitely a banded sea krait. I have watched many nature shows with this snake on it. This was at Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island, Fla. We will be there again this August and I will be keeping a look out for another one.
This location is on the Gulf Coast of Florida and is the first report we are aware of in the region.
In the first article on the subject we note there are eel species in the Gulf that could be mistaken for a sea snake, however the behavior mentioned in the report above does not match up with eel behavior.
Is it really possible that banded sea kraits entered the Gulf of Mexico through ship ballasts?
An article at thoughtco.com explains ballast systems purpose and how they work.
A ballast water system allows a ship to pump water in and out of very large tanks to compensate for a change in cargo load, shallow draft conditions, or weather.
The capacity of ballast water tanks might be millions of gallons on a large vessel. This allows vessels to carry a light or heavy load while maintaining ideal buoyancy and handling conditions in all situations.
More than 7,000 species move around in ship ballots daily according to officials with the World Wildlife Fund in an article in The Telegraph and while ships are supposed to change their ballast water in the open ocean to lessen the chance of invaders making it inland, this would have little impact on sea snakes. They could easily catch a ride on a mat of Sargassum and be just fine.
The Chinese Mitten crab has taken up residence in the Thames and other English river systems after being brought in by ballasts. It’s within the realm of possibility for sea snakes to hitch a ride into the Gulf.
An interesting side-note is the most likely sea snake hitchhiker would be the yellow-bellied sea snake as it is found along the Pacific Coast of Panama and is the most widely distributed species. All of the reports I have gathered are of banded sea kraits which live much further away from the United States.
We will talk more about this in another post and dig more into some other possible cases of mistaken identity besides the aforementioned eels.
If you have seen any sea snake in the Gulf of Mexico or had a sighting of something snake-like you cannot explain email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story is getting more interesting by the week and we will continue coverage here at The Wildlife Journalist®.
Chester Moore, Jr.