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Sea snakes are much better divers than previously believed

Posted April 14, 2019

Sea snakes are great divers and that is not even surprising. They spend a significant part of their lives in water and that trains them very well to withstand the challenges associated with it. However, recently scientists have recorded snakes reaching record depths that are actually surprising. Apparently, sea snakes are capable of reaching depths of 250 metres.

Scientists were surprised to see that sea snakes are capable of reaching depths of close to 250 metres. Image credit: fearlessRich via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

INPEX Australia, an exploration and production company, has recently recorded a couple of sea snakes, swimming at incredible depths of sea. One was swimming at 245 metres deep, and another sea snake at 239 metres. This smashes scientists’ understanding of what is possible for these bizarre creatures. Previously scientists believed that sea snakes are maxing out at 50 to 100 metres. The limitation here is air – snakes have to surface regularly to consume several gulps of air. That is why scientists from the University of Adelaide were so surprised to see a footage of snakes swimming in close to 250 metres deep.

These snakes were visiting the “twilight zone” – this is how the oceanic depths between 200 and 1000 metres, encompassing the mesopelagic zone, are sometimes called. Just a tiny amount of light is able to penetrate that kind of thickness of water, which makes it rather difficult for scientists to spot the evasive snakes. Of course, there is also the problem of pressure and quite a long way up, where all the air is. Scientists say that sea snakes are using gas exchange through their skin – this is probably their main tool for combating diving sickness. But what are they doing so deep?

The reason why snakes go through such a tiring journey is because they are looking for food. Snakes are poking their heads into burrows in the sandy sea floor looking for some kind of fish or other creatures to feed on. Interestingly, scientists are not even sure what are they looking for. Because scientists previously have observed them only going as deep as 100 metres, they are not even sure what is edible for them at greater depths. This is a bit of an ecological problem. Only understanding the behaviour of snakes scientists can find ways of protecting them.

There is still a lot we don’t know about many aquatic animals. Researches like this one allow us to improve our understanding of these animals and their physical capabilities. Sea snakes are much better divers than previously believed, but what can we do with this information?


Source: University of Adelaide

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