Officials thought it was extinct, but a rare species of sea snake has been sighted in Australian waters for the first time in a decade and a half.
Researchers had long believed that the short-nosed sea snake was extinct; nobody had seen a living specimen in fifteen years. According to a report from the Washington Post, however, the short-nosed sea snake was not extinct at all. It was merely hiding.
A team of Australian researchers spotted a pair of short-nosed sea snakes swimming in the warm waters near the Ningaloo Reef on the western side of the continent. A park ranger with the team snapped a photo of the snakes for scientists to confirm their species.
The finding has led to the publication of a study on the expanded range of the snakes, authored by Blanche D’Anastasi. The scientists that received the photos were blown away by the discovery, having believed that the snakes were long gone. D’Anastasi, a researcher from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at the James Cook University in Australia, also noted that the snakes appeared to be courting each other, suggesting that their population is anything but on the decline.
The snake was first listed as critically endangered in the late 1990s, and has not appeared in surveys of its native Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea since 2000. “This species has gone from being the third most commonly recorded sea snake in the 1990s to no individuals being recorded in intensive surveys since 2000, indicating a decline of at least 90 percent in the past 15 years,” said the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Researchers believe the decline in sea snake populations over the past decade and a half is largely due to trawler fishermen that drag massive nets along the reef. There has been no concrete evidence linking the snakes’ decline to trawling, however, and the real reason behind their decline remains a mystery.
A press release from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies outlining the details of the study can be found here.