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Another rare sea serpent has washed ashore in Southern California

Another rare sea serpent has washed ashore in Southern California
A yellow bellied sea snake washed ashore in Huntington Beach on Dec. 13. It is the third sea snake ever recorded in Southern California and was probably driven north of its normal tropical habitat by El Niño. (Lisa Gonzalez/Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County)

Wildlife rescuers have a new problem on their hands: for the second time in two months, a rare venomous sea serpent has washed up on a local beach hundreds of miles from its normal haunts.

The dead 27-inch-long male yellow bellied sea snake was discovered last week during a Surfrider Foundation coastal cleanup campaign in Huntington Beach.

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A 2-foot-long yellow bellied sea snake was discovered in October after slithering onto Silver Strand State Beach in Ventura County. It died shortly after being taken to a local U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office.

The species, known to scientists as Pelamis platura, was first seen in Southern California in San Clemente in 1972 during an El Niño.

Greg Pauly, herpetological curator at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, believes the reptile in Huntington Beach may have been prompted to navigate north of its normal tropical habitat by the spread of abnormally warm ocean temperatures because of a strong El Niño this year.

"It is incredible and fascinating to have two of these aquatic, highly venomous snakes suddenly show up around here," he said. "But this is not an invasion, and no one has ever died from the bite of this animal."

"Their fangs are tiny and they can barely open their mouths wide enough to bite a person," he said. "So, unless you pick one up, the biggest safety concern with going to the beach is with driving there and then driving home."

The yellow bellied sea snake has a bright yellow underside and a flat, paddlelike tail with black spots. It is the most wide-ranging snake species on Earth, cruising the warm tropical waters off the coasts of Africa, Asia, Australia, Central America and Mexico, and Baja Calif.

Pauly advises people who come across these snakes to keep a safe distance, then take photographs and send them to the museum at nature@nhm.org.

Follow me @LouisSahagun for more fascinating stories.

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