NEWPORT BEACH (CBSLA) — A rare yellow-bellied sea snake washed up in Newport Beach this week, only the fifth time the warm water sea snake has been documented in Southern California.
The snake, which is rarely sighted this far north of its typical range, was found Tuesday and reported to a lifeguard and animal control officer, who notified the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach. It’s the fourth time in two years that such a creature has been spotted in the waters off Southern California.
The snake will be preserved and will become part of the permanent collection at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
“It’s uncommon for these snakes to be seen this far north, as they favor the warmer waters off the coast of southern Baja California, Mexico, and we are thrilled to add this specimen to our permanent collection,” said Greg Pauly, associate curator of herpetology.
The yellow-bellied sea snake’s previous California appearances were in 1972 in San Clemente and three times in the winter of 2015-16 in Ventura, San Diego, and Orange counties – all very strong El Niño years when the waters off the California coast were unusually warm. Officials say this week’s finding is “particularly unexpected” because it is the first in California outside an El Niño event.
The museum says it will have the new yellow-bellied snake on public view within the week in its Nature Lab.