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Seeing Sea Snakes While Cruising in the Fiji Islands

by Vern Clinton

Do you ever see any sharks?

That’s a question every cruiser gets when he is reluctantly drawn into telling sea. stories. Jaws has had its impact and Benchly fans the oceans of the world are populated with toothy giants cruising around just waiting for some tender morsel to come sailing into their dining room. Well, I’m no different. I’ve got a couple of great shark stories for hair curling at cocktail parties, and you’re liable to run across a couple of them right on this blog.

Still, while Jaws is the first thought of many, there are a large number of more sophisticated questioners with the question “What about Sea Snakes”.

Now there’s a concept to curl your hair. It’s pretty scary visualizing a futile battle with a great toothy monster gobbling you up amid “Mack the Knife” imagery but, still, if you must go, that’s an honest way for a sailor to go. Kind of like a safari guide meeting a tiger, or being trampled by a wild elephant, or being gobbled by a Tyrannosaurus Rex on a lost island populated by leggy Amazons with leopard skin bikinis. But a snake, yechhh. Slithery, slidy, sneaky, tongue-flickering, beady-eyed snake. There you are in some beautiful lagoon poking around for shells in some place where no self-respecting Great White Shark would ever even think of spending time, and “ping”, you feel a little nip about like brushing against a piece of sharp coral. Minutes later you’re writhing in agony, turning black and all that good stuff. Brrrr. I’ll take Jaws anytime. I admit to shivering every time I see even a garter snake and when questions about these Sea Snakes come up I prefer to be far from water. I don’t even like to have the water running in the sink.

Sea Snakes are ubiquitous in tropical waters. If you are cruising in Fiji islands they are everywhere. The species in these waters are a variety that has a particularly virulent poison with no antidote. On any particular snorkeling expedition, you can see several of them poking into nooks and crannies for small fish or whatever they like. Sometimes they will laze on the surface so they can be encountered unexpectedly there. While snorkeling you are looking down with that particular tunnel vision that a diving mask causes and you swim into the beast. They say it scares poor near-sighted snake, but rather than put a lot of thought into that I tend to scream and thrash.

Shudder, brrrrr, yahhh!! They are rather nearsighted and are curious so it is not unusual for one that is roaming the bottom to stop and swim directly toward you at the surface. It chills me when this happens and even gives me goose bumps when I write about it. Still (we are told) the snakes I’ve seen don’t seem to be aggressive, although I’ve heard that those found along the Great Barrier Reef in Australia occasionally are. All species have very small mouths not really suited to large prey.

Unless they happened on a small fold of flesh like you have between your fingers they could not bite you even if they were inclined to do so. OK my brain believes that although my stomach doesn’t accept any of it. My equanimity would be seriously disturbed to have one of these inoffensive beasts gumming me in a non-aggressive way.

If I feel this way why am I writing about them? Ah, well, it’s to set the stage for my snake story, of course. It’s a wonderful story that happened to someone else. If it had been me instead of that someone else you would not now be reading these pages as I would be no more than a memory having long ago disappeared in the sand as a quivering lump of jelly, a victim of my own phobia. Well, it will have to wait for another session at the computer…