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Another rare, venomous sea serpent washes ashore in Southern California

For the third time in recent months, a rare venomous sea snake has washed up on a Southern California beach, hundreds of miles from its normal waters.

The 20-inch-long yellow-bellied serpent was found about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at Dog Beach in Coronado by a passerby who alerted lifeguards, Coronado city officials said in a statement. The lifeguard put the snake in a bucket, where it died soon afterward, officials said.

Two of the snakes have washed up on Southern California shores in recent months -- one 27 inches long in Huntington Beach in December and a 2-footer in Ventura County in October. Both died.

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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, told The Times last month that he believed the reptile in Huntington Beach may have been prompted to navigate north of its normal tropical habitat by the spread of unusually warm ocean temperatures because of the 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 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.

The snake found Tuesday will be turned over to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Coronado city officials said.

Times staff writer Louis Sahagun contributed to this report.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.

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