Poisonous Sea Snakes May Attack Divers During Mating Season, Study Finds | Snakes
Highly poisonous and sexually excited sea snakes can attack human divers after mistaking them for other snakes during the breeding season, a new study suggests.
Researchers from three Australian universities working on the southern Great Barrier Reef found that olive sea snakes – especially males – repeatedly approach divers, wrap around fins, strike reflections of the camera, made rapid, jerky movements and were particularly active in the winter when they spawn. .
The acts of assault are likely due to “mistaken identity during sexual interactions,” wrote Tim Lynch of CSIRO in Hobart, Ross Alford of James Cook University in Townsville and Richard Shine of Macquarie University in Sydney, in the study published by Scientific Reports.
Snakes, it seems, may believe that divers are rivals or potential mates.
âAt first glance, the idea that a snake could mistake a human diver for another snake seems ludicrous, given the huge disparity in size and shape between these two objects,â the researchers wrote. “Nonetheless, this offers the most plausible explanation for our observations.”
Sea snakes may not be able to see well underwater, which impairs their ability to distinguish humans from snakes. Other marine species – including male dolphins, dugongs, sea lions, and sea turtles – are known to sexually target humans.
But because the large olive sea snakes have the ability to bite human victims and pack deadly venom, the stakes are much higher.
“A bite is unlikely unless the animal is threatened or injured,” the researchers wrote, advising divers to stand still and allow snakes to investigate them, including using their tongues to look for chemical clues.
âAttempting to flee is likely to be futile and could even increase the ardor of the pursuit,â the researchers wrote. “Attempting to chase the animal may cause retaliation.”