Seven Snorkeling Grandmas Discovered a Deadly Sea Snake Population

Velvetfish/iStock via Getty Images
Velvetfish/iStock via Getty Images

If you found out your favorite snorkeling spot was home to 5-foot-long venomous snakes, you’d probably scope out safer waters somewhere far, far away—but a dauntless group of grandmothers did just the opposite.

While studying the small, harmless turtle-headed sea snake in New Caledonia’s Baie des Citrons, two researchers sighted several greater sea snakes (Hydrophis major). The much larger, potentially lethal species proved elusive, and the scientists saw only about 30 of them over three years.

Then, in 2017, seven local grandmothers in their sixties and seventies had an idea. According to a press release, the self-styled “Fantastic Grandmothers” suggested to the researchers—Claire Goiran of the University of New Caledonia and Rick Shine of Macquarie University—that they observe and photograph the greater sea snakes on their regular snorkeling excursions.

snorkeling grandma photographs sea snake
Monique Mazière and Sea Snake 79, nicknamed "Déborah."
Claire Goiran/University of New Caledonia

“As soon as the grandmothers set to work, we realized that we had massively underestimated the abundance of greater sea snakes in the bay,” Goiran said in a press release.

Because of noticeable differences in their patterns, it’s easy to tell greater sea snakes apart in photographs. Not only did the women identify more than 249 greater sea snakes in the bay, they also helped shed light on their breeding habits and offspring. Shine told CNN that the women are a “powerful example” of how members of the broader public can enrich scientific discoveries.

snorkeling grandma photographs sea snake
Claire Goiran/University of New Caledonia

“The incredible energy of the grandmothers and their intimate familiarity with ‘my’ study area have transformed our understanding of the abundance and ecology of marine snakes in this system,” Goiran said. “It’s a great pleasure and privilege to work with them.” The scientists published their findings in the journal Ecosphere.

Fantastic Grandmothers
The Fantastic Grandmothers, from left to right: Geneviève Briançon, Aline Guémas, Monique Zannier, Monique Mazière, Sylvie Hébert, Cathy Le Bouteiller and Marilyn Sarocchi.

Fortunately, the Fantastic Grandmothers swam away from the study unscathed. In fact, there’s never been a recorded incident of a greater sea snake biting someone in the area, which Goiran believes implies a “benevolent disposition.”

The idea of a warm-hearted, cold-blooded venomous reptile seems strange, but perhaps not as weird as these really weird snakes.

[h/t CNN]

This $49 Video Game Design Course Will Teach You Everything From Coding to Digital Art Skills

EvgeniyShkolenko/iStock via Getty Images
EvgeniyShkolenko/iStock via Getty Images

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A Prehistoric Great White Shark Nursery Has Been Discovered in Chile

Great white sharks used prehistoric nurseries to protect their young.
Great white sharks used prehistoric nurseries to protect their young.
solarseven/iStock via Getty Images

Great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) may be one of the most formidable and frightening apex predators on the planet today, but life for them isn’t as easy as horror movies would suggest. Due to a slow growth rate and the fact that they produce few offspring, the species is listed as vulnerable to extinction.

There is a way these sharks ensure survival, and that is by creating nurseries—a designated place where great white shark babies (called pups) are protected from other predators. Now, researchers at the University of Vienna and colleagues have discovered these nurseries occurred in prehistoric times.

In a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, Jamie A. Villafaña from the university’s Institute of Palaeontology describes a fossilized nursery found in Coquimbo, Chile. Researchers were examining a collection of fossilized great white shark teeth between 5 and 2 million years old along the Pacific coast of Chile and Peru when they noticed a disproportionate number of young shark teeth in Coquimbo. There was also a total lack of sexually mature animals' teeth, which suggests the site was used primarily by pups and juveniles as a nursery.

Though modern great whites are known to guard their young in designated areas, the researchers say this is the first example of a paleo-nursery. Because the climate was much warmer when the paleo-nursery was in use, the researchers think these protective environments can deepen our understanding of how great white sharks can survive global warming trends.