A species of sea snake previously thought to be extinct has been re-discovered in Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef.

Ningaloo Reef.

Ningaloo Reef. Image by peter boer / CC BY 2.0

The discovery has been met with joy in the scientific community as the short-nosed sea snake have not been seen since 1998, leading many to believe they were extinct. The species used to live on Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea, some 2000km from Ningaloo Reef, but all but disappeared from the area some 15 years ago. And while scientists are still trying to explain their disappearance from Ashmore Reef, they were delighted to re-discover the species in the waters off Western Australia.

Scientists from Queensland’s James Cook University (JCU) identified the species from a photograph snapped by a Western Australian wildlife officer on patrol in the marine park.

In an interview with Australia’s ABC, JCU PhD student Blanche D’Anastasi described the reaction of the scientific team to the discovery: “When the snakes went extinct at Ashmore Reef there was global alarm … the last thing we expected to find was the two missing sea snakes and there they were, in plain sight. We were absolutely blown away.”

What’s even more encouraging, the photograph appears to show the two short-nosed sea snakes engaged in a courtship dance.

And while visitors to Ningaloo might not greet the news of the venomous snake’s re-discovery with quite the same enthusiasm as the scientific community, they pose little danger to humans. Sea snakes often approach divers, but will rarely bite them if left in peace, preferring a diet of eels and small fish to human hands.