Story: Beachcombing

Sea snake

Sea snake

Around six yellow-bellied sea snakes are found washed up on New Zealand beaches each year, when they stray from warmer waters to the north. This one was alive when found. It is best not to pick them up, as their bite can be fatal. Jean Porter vividly recalls her find, over 60 years ago.

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Contributed by Jean Porter of Warkworth.

At the age of three I was already an avid beachcomber. One day I was fossicking on the beach at Mt Maunganui in the Bay of Plenty, supervised by my father who was on the verandah of the primitive cottage on the foreshore where we were staying.

The heady perfume of lupin filled my nostrils, and the hot sand burned the soles of my feet. I caught sight of a shimmering green and golden ‘worm’ with a flat yellow tail, and I tried to catch it. This was the best potential pet I’d ever found and much more exciting than pretty shells.

Unable to catch it, I ran excitedly up the beach. ‘Daddy, quick! I got a ’normous worm, but he’s running away, you gotta come now!’

Dragged away from his cool beer in the shade, my disbelieving father examined the wiggly track vanishing into the patch of lupins and concluded that an over-imaginative daughter had drawn it with a stick.

Ten years later an elderly family friend was bitten by an identical ‘worm’ at nearby Maketū beach, in the same region. He miraculously survived the lethal bite and later presented the snake – in a bottle – to the Auckland Museum. It was identified as a pelagic species known as the yellow-bellied sea snake, Pelamis platurus.

This visitor from the tropics is slightly less venomous than most sea snakes, but possibly lethal enough to have killed an inquisitive toddler. Sadly, my triumphant ‘See, now do you believe me?’ at age 13 only brought the response: ‘Maybe – but you were only a baby. You probably imagined it.’

I became a sailor and enthusiastic diver, and in the more than 60 years since that best-ever find I have continued to search for treasure cast up by a restless ocean, but remain grateful I didn’t catch that piece of colourful, living flotsam.

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Eye on the Sea

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How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Beachcombing - Marine creatures', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 August 2022)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 12 Jun 2006