Sea Snakes Attacking Divers After Misinterpreting Fleeing Actions

by Matthew Memrick

A recent study cites misdirected sexual attraction in how some poisonous sea snakes interact with scuba divers.

People Magazine reported that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is where olive sea snakes see the divers as potential suitors.

Scientific Reports study involved divers who reported unprovoked “attacks” by the common Australian snake. The snakes appear aggressive and agitated as they flick their tongues, wrap around diver limbs and even bite.

The study said this behavior happened during the winter breeding season. The male snakes, who did this more than the females, spent more time with the divers and showed off during courtship. Female snakes, on the other hand, saw the divers more as possible hiding places.

Study co-author Tim Lynch swam along the reef for the study. According to CNN, sea snake encounters were up between May and August. Also, sea snakes approached Lynch in 74 of 158 meetings during that time.

“Like dogs, snakes mostly rely on scent, not vision, to work out what’s going on in the world around them,” the study’s co-author Rick Shine told CNN

Shine is a professor of biological sciences at Macquarie University in Sydney. CNN said in previous research sea snakes have a hard time identifying shapes in the water.

An “attacking” snake would come at a fleeing diver, who acted as a hot female snake in the getaway movements. The study said during mating season, females encourage male snakes to chase them.

In 13 instances, the study said the snake would flick its tongue and then charge the diver. In three cases, male snakes wrapped around a diver’s fin, a courtship-like behavior. 

How To Handle A Sea Snake: Don’t

What was the best advice for divers? The team said for them to remain still and avoid hitting back when approached.

Shine said, “panic is deadly” when a snake swims at you. He also said a sea snake encounter could also be deadly even if the snake doesn’t bite.

Washington, D.C.-based Oceana, a nonprofit ocean conservation organization, said these particular snakes could grow to over six feet long. 

The highly venomous snake actively goes at night after medium-sized fish and ocean floor dwellers like prawns and crabs. The snake makes short daytime appearances every two hours to catch its breath. 

“Our study shows that keeping calm is the key,” Shine told CNN. “The snake is not attacking you. He just thinks that you may be a female snake. And once he works out, that’s not the case. He will wander off to look for love elsewhere.”

According to The Guardian, male dolphins, sea cows, sea lions, and sea turtles have also sexually gone after humans.