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Sea Snake Envenomation

Background

Sea snakes, venomous elapid snakes that inhabit marine environments, are the most abundant and widely dispersed group of poisonous reptiles in the world.
They comprise approximately 70 species, 50 of which are members of the family Hydrophiidae. Sea snakes are characterized by laterally compressed bodies and vertically flattened tails and nostrils with valve-like flaps, giving them an eel-like appearance. Their most characteristic feature is a paddle-like tail, which increases their swimming ability.
Unlike eels, however, sea snakes have scales but lack gills or fins. Although they spend much of their time underwater, they must surface regularly to breathe.
They are typically about 1 m in length, but some species may grow to 3 m. See the image below.

Yellow-belly pelagic sea snake. Illustration by Da

Yellow-belly pelagic sea snake. Illustration by David Kirshner.

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Sea snakes are found in warm coastal waters, predominantly in tropical and subtropical waters in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans.
They are usually found in protected coastal waters and near river mouths. However, they are able to thrive in a variety of habitats, ranging from muddy or turbid water, to clear waters and coral reefs. Most species prefer shallow waters not far from land, around islands. The pelagic sea snake, Pelamis platurus, has a remarkably wide geographic range, reaching the western coasts of North America and South America from the Baja peninsula to Ecuador, along with the waters around Hawaii. Sea snakes are not found in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean, or along the North American coast north of Baja.

Generally, sea snakes are not aggressive with gentle dispositions. They are not thought to bite humans unless provoked, and they typically do not actively pursue swimming prey. Sea snakes have been noted to become quite aggressive, when they are taken out of water, exhibiting erratic movements and striking anything near them that moves.

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