Warning over sea snake social media picture
A FISHERMAN who rescued a large sea snake on the Great Barrier Reef after untangling it from abandoned fishing line, may have done more damage than good for the dangerous marine reptile.
Cairns commercial fisher Cass Williams has posted a photo of himself on social media holding up a 1.5m long Olive sea snake by the tail, after finding the highly venomous creature swimming off Green Island about a week ago.
Mr Williams, who says he has handled hundreds of sea snakes in the past 20 years, said the animal had been entangled in fishing line when he and some mates came across it within the marine park.
"That's why we caught it," he said.
"We managed to untangle him, and get him out of it and release him back into the sea."
He said he was aware of the highly venomous nature of the snake.
"I'm fully aware of what they're capable of," he said.
James Cook University sea snake expert Blanche D'Anastasi, however, said sea snakes were extremely fragile animals and the simple act of holding it by the tail out of the water could cause it permanent damage.
"They spend their whole lives in the water, and when you take it out of the water and hang them by their tail, there is a high probability you will separate their vertebrae and cause permanent spinal damage," she said.
"Because of the way the muscle control works in a snake, you won't necessarily be able to see the spinal damage you've done immediately."
Ms D'Anastasi and other reptile researchers have developed a sea snake handling guide, detailing the correct methods on how the public and snake catchers should manage the animals if encountered at sea or on the beach.
She said sea snakes had no need to come ashore, so when one became stranded, it was most likely it had an underlying illness or injury.
However, she said it was not recommended the general public handle the reptiles in any shape or form.
"These things are extremely fragile, and extremely venomous. They're fast moving.
"One small misstep from (Mr Williams), and he could have ended up in the ICU with holes in his kidneys.
"Even though he is a professional (fisherman), it sets a bad example."
Sea snakes are a protected species under Great Barrier Reef Marine Park legislation.
A Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority spokeswoman said if sea snakes were accidentally caught, they should be returned to the water unharmed as quickly as possible.
"Taking protected species, which includes interfering with these animals, has a maximum penalty that can be imposed by a court of $12,600," she said.
HOW TO RESCUE A SEA SNAKE
■ Please do not touch the snake or try to push it back into the water. Beached sea
snakes will likely just wash ashore again.
■ Sea snakes are venomous. Stay at a safe distance from the animal and do not touch
it. Sea snakes have long fixed front fangs and are capable of envenoming people, as
they are an elapid.
■ Watch closely for movement or signs of life.
■ Call your local wildlife rescue, a local snake catcher or 1300 ANIMAL. State your
location and send a photo to the carer or catcher if possible.
■ Report your sighting to the Australian Sea Snakes Facebook group if possible, with a time, date, location and any details about behaviour or the outcome for the snake.