You’re swimming in the sea when you feel a long creature brush by you underwater. Suddenly, there’s a sharp pain in your arm. Whatever that thing was, it just bit you. You see it slithering away through the water. Was that a snake? And how concerned should you be about its bite?
Sea snakes live in the tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans, but not in the Atlantic Ocean. Despite this, they are the world’s most abundant and venomous reptiles. Just one of their bites could ruin your whole day, and maybe even your whole life.
Their venom is a potent neurotoxin that can kill you if you don’t get treated immediately. So how can you avoid being bitten? What should you do if one sinks their fangs into you? What are your chances of surviving?
Step 1. Don’t upset them
Be aware of your surroundings at all times. If you can, avoid the waters where sea snakes are known to live. If you see any snakes, keep your distance. Do not grab or engage with them in any way. If you make any aggressive or provocative actions, they will cause the snake to strike.
If a snake approaches you, stay calm. They don’t have the best eyesight and may only want to investigate. Once it knows you’re not a threat or a potential mate, it should leave you alone. Then move away slowly. The snake might interpret any fast movements as a threat. And be aware that they can swim backward just as fast as forward. But what if it bites you?
Step 2. Get out of the water
Sea snake venom can paralyze your muscles. So after being bitten, the most important thing you can do is get out of the water. Otherwise, you could drown. And don’t bother trying to suck out the poison. It won’t help.
Step 3. Apply pressure
Immediately remove any clothing or wetsuit around the bite. The area needs to be clear for treatment.
Apply pressure to the wound as soon as possible to slow the venom’s spread. Wrap the wound tightly with a pressure bandage, and continue it as far up your arm or leg as you can. But don’t cut off your circulation.
Every 10 minutes, remove the bandage and clean the wound. Then reapply the bandage. Continue this process for four to six hours after being bitten.
Step 4. Get medical help
There are 50 species of sea snakes, and all of them are venomous. Once bitten, you’ll need medical treatment right away. Even if you don’t feel any effects from the venom, get to a medical facility and calmly let them know what has happened. It can sometimes take up to three hours for the poison to take effect. You could feel muscle pain or have paralysis and difficulty speaking.
You’ll likely be admitted into the intensive care unit and be treated with antivenom. Thousands of divers and anglers get bitten by sea snakes every year. Anglers often get bitten when pulling nets out of the water.
A 23-year-old was working on a trawler 75 km (46.6 mi) off the coast of Northern Australia. A sea snake bit him as he pulled a net out of the sea. His ship sent an immediate call for help, but he died within two hours.
Thankfully this was a rare case, as only about 3% of the bites are fatal.
But a sea snake bite still wouldn’t be much fun for you, so keep an eye out for them in the water. And don’t think you’re any safer on land. Sea snakes are amphibious and go onto land to shed their skin, mate and lay eggs. They’re not the only deadly snakes that are known to venture out of their watery homes.
Take the anaconda, for instance. If one of these beasts latches onto you, you’ll need a lot more than an antivenom to save your life.
- “Sea Snakes: A Complete Guide – Animals Around The Globe“. Jan, Chris. 2020. Animals Around The Globe.
- “What Sea Snake Bite Is The Most Venomous? First Aid & Treatment“. 2021. Emedicinehealth.
- “Venomous Sea Snakes That Charge Divers May Just Be Looking For Love“. Magazine, Smithsonian, and Alex Fox. 2021.Smithsonian Magazine.
- “Sea Snake Toxicity“.Fuehrer, Justin, Erwin Kong, and Heather Murphy-Lavoie. 2021. Statpearls Publishing.
- “Sea Snakes ‘Attacking’ Divers Are Just Trying To Get Laid, Scientists Say“. 2021. Huffpost UK.
- “Fascinating Venomous Sea Snake Facts“. 2021. Thoughtco.