Yellow bellied sea snakes have been spotted off Silver Strand Beach in Oxnard, likely due to the warming temperatures from climate change and the anticipated El Niño, an environmental group announced Friday.
Experts are urging the public to report all sightings of the highly venomous creatures.
"These are exciting times for these good observations," said Meredith McCarthy, director of programs at Heal the Bay, a nonprofit environmental organization for Southern California coasts.
The sea snakes mostly inhabit the Pacific and Indian Oceans, but are extremely rare to the Southern California coast. The last sighting of a yellow bellied sea snake was in the 1980s during another El Niño.
Yellow bellied sea snakes are drawn to waters with temperatures higher than 72 degrees, McCarthy said. And thanks to the upcoming El Niño sure to bring heavy rainstorms to California this winter, coasts are warming up, drawing the sea snakes toward Southern California.
These sea snakes are also actively looking for fresh water to drink, McCarthy said. The recent rainfalls in California may have attracted sea snakes to the possible freshwater pools that may have accumulated over the ocean. According to a National Geographic study, when it rains, water falls onto the ocean surface but doesn't mix right away, forming a fresh or mildly salty layer that sea snakes can drink from.
The sea snakes are "incredibly venomous," Heal the Bay announced on its Facebook page, and people are urged to stay away, but there's "no need to panic."
"We hope people don't worry about the sea snakes since they're so rare," McCarthy said.
Scientists are asking anyone who encounters a sea snake to take photos and provide accurate location information to iNaturalist or Herp Mapper, Dana Murray from Heal the Bay said in a blog post. Any information provided by the public can be used in scientific journals, the announcement also stated.
"We don't want anyone to touch them," McCarthy said. "We want to give them the space that they need."
Yellow bellied sea snakes are "not known to be very aggressive," according to California Herps, an online guide to California's reptiles and amphibians. They are reluctant to strike, but when they do, they often do not inject venom.
In a Facebook video posted by user Robert Forbes, he is seen handling a yellow bellied sea snake he spotted and "rescued" Friday in Oxnard.
Yellow bellied sea snakes aren't the only unusual sea creature sighting in Southern California in the recent months -- rare Australian jellyfish in San Diego and a hammerhead shark in Orange County were both spotted back in September.