The short-nosed sea snake (Aipysurus apraefrontalis) is a highly venomous sea snake species that was believed to be locally extinct for over two decades. But it was rediscovered last week by scientists who were researching Ashmore Reef, Western Australia.

It was seen 220 feet (67 meters) below the ocean surface on April 12, the first time in 23 years. It used to be an endemic species in Ashmore Reef before it gradually declined since the 1970s until it was last seen in 1998, ABC Science reported.

 Highly Venomous Snake Believed To Be Extinct For 23 Years Rediscovered in Australian Reef
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Short-nosed sea snake (Aipysurus apraefrontalis) specimen (SAMA R68142) from Ashmore Reef, Australia

Rediscovered Venomous Sea Snake In Western Australia

Scientists conducted their research in Ashmore Reef aboard a research vessel equipped with advanced robotic technologies when they saw the highly venomous short-nosed sea snake.

According to MailOnline, the team of researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) led by researcher Blanche D'Anastasi was looking for dead seashells when they stumbled upon the sea snake.

"The robot was looking at a dead shell and (the researchers) were trying to pick it up and it had a sea snake sitting next to it," D'Anastasi said. "They asked to zoom in on it and they realized straight away it was a short-nosed sea snake."

The team could not believe it at first, but it was indeed the venomous shot-nosed sea snake upon checking. Dr. Karen Miller of AIMS said that the last sighting of the sea snake species in the Ashmore Reef was in 1998, and it disappeared since then.

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Second Chance of Saving the Venomous Sea Snake

The team believes that finding the venomous sea snake again that was once believed to be extinct was a second chance at protecting the endangered species.

 "The short-nosed sea snake was thought to be lost forever from Ashmore - so it truly is a remarkable find, the whole ship of researchers was squealing in excitement," Miller said.

Impossible to Identify

The short-nosed sea snake is a member of the Elapidae family, which has short, hollow fixed fangs that can inject a predominantly neurotoxic venom that is harmful to humans. Scientists who recently discovered the snake was fortunate at that time because they were aboard a research vessel, keeping them safe.

According to Newsweek, it is impossible to see from the photos if it is a reef snake or a coastal snake because it is curled up on the seabed 220 feet below the ocean's surface where it only receives a minimal amount of sunlight.

The team suggests that two scenarios could be possible as to why they see the short-nosed sea snake again. First, the original short-nosed sea snake has been hiding away from human reach in the depths of the ocean all these years, and the second is that coastal snakes have simply expanded their territory.

If the first explanation is true, it could mean that the short-nosed sea snake survived all these years. But if the second one is true, it means that Ashmore Reef has lost a historical diversity that used to be present in the area.

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