Maui - not a sea snake

Leiuranus semicinctus - Saddled Snake Eel_0736b.JPG

I was one hour on snorkel into an herbivore survey at the Kahekili Reef, West Maui, and an unknown critter came slithering across the coral.  My camera was clipped to a utility belt and it took me a few seconds to swing it up to my face.  I've learned I may have only one chance to capture a photo, so I took a quick photo from the surface before free diving onto a fish (attached). I was only halfway down in 15 feet of sea water when the critter dove head-first into the sand and quickly disappeared.  Two photos -- from the surface, and a tail shot -- are the only evidence I have.  

My heart was pounding because it looked like a sea snake, but only the Yellow Bellied Sea Snake is rarely seen in the coastal waters of the main Hawaiian Islands.  The photos confirm it was not a sea snake, though friends who SCUBA in Palau and the Phillipines think the photo looks like a Laticauda colubrina - Yellow Lipped Sea Snake.  My tail shot confirms a pointy ending, not a paddle-like tail, so it is not a sea snake. FishBase and Keoki & Yuko Stender's Marine Life Photography websites confirm it is the Leiuranus semicinctus - Saddled Snake Eel.

Kahekili Reef is an amazing low-profile reef in front of a West Maui development that we are trying to save by letting the fish and urchins "naturally" graze down the algae, and is now a Marine Protected Area.

Coral Rick


Snake Eel

Wow, what a wonderful shot.  Great work on capturing such an elusive creature.

Carol D. Cox Research Diver, Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association

sea snake lookalike

Thanks for posting this story, Rick! It's so great. And awesome that you got a picture of the eel before it dove into the sand. Kahekili is indeed one of the great spots, definitely worth saving!

George, there are no sea snakes in Hawaii

86 year old George Boskoff swims a mile or so about three times a week, with goggles, off of Wahikuli Beach Park over here on west Maui.  The other day he says to me "Jim, i saw a sea snake today in about 15 feet of water not too far off the beach.  We all know what I replied.  After his urging, we stumbled on the photo of the saddled snake eel....I'm glad we didn't bet on it....any way, Nat Geo's Feb 2013 issue has a photo of a sea krait in Fiji that started the whole argument and prompted our on line search which ended with the terriffic photo of the one off of Airport Beach.  Thanks alot!!! 

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub