Divers on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia report that sea snakes chase, bite and even coil on them, without any provocation made.
Sea snakes are animals that can reach up to 2 meters and breed on land but spend their entire lives in the sea. They are very poisonous, even more so than land snakes. However, these reported bites have no venom.
Courtship with the wrong partners
In a new study published in Nature, 158 observations of olive ridley sea snake ( Aipysurus laevis ) on the Great Barrier Reef. The study suggests that the reported attacks are actually a courtship to the wrong sexual partners.
During the observation, the snakes approached researcher Dr. Lynch 47% of the time he was diving.
These interactions were most common during the sea snake's mating season between May and August. Only 13 of these involved complete interactions with the diver. The snakes that "chased" the diver are almost equally divided by sex, with seven males and six females making up the group.
Regarding males, the "attack" always happened after they unsuccessfully chased a female sea snake or had a dispute with a rival male.
On three occasions, male sea snakes were seen wrapping themselves around one of Dr. Lynch's fins. This behavior is normally observed during the animal's courtship rituals.
Previous research suggests that sea snakes may have difficulty distinguishing different shapes underwater. Thus, when a male gets lost from a female, he may move towards any other animal mistaking it for his sexual partner.
In contrast, female sea snakes approached Dr. Lynch apparently as a refuge from unwanted sexual partners.
"Snakes are often seen as these malevolent beings intent on causing pain, but in this case they're just looking for love," says the study's author.
The findings offer practical information for divers who may encounter olive ridley sea snake or even other sea snake species.
Providing an explanation for the behaviour and clear instructions can also help divers override a reflexive fear of a potentially dangerous animal moving quickly towards them.
"Sea snakes can swim faster than you can, so it's a complete waste of time trying to swim away," says Dr. Lynch.
It's best not to try to push her away or hit her, as this can stress her out. Just give them the opportunity to find out that you are not a sexual partner, and once they do, they are likely to walk away.
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