New sea snakes 'discovered'

Scientists have discovered a new species of sea snake in the Gulf of Carpenteria, a shallow sea enclosed on three sides by Australia, which they claim could provide important clues about evolution.

The snake, which is unique in having raised scales, has been given the scientific name Hydrophis donaldii and the common-name "rough-scaled sea snake" to reflect the scalation, says a team at the University of Queensland.

Prof Bryan Fry, who led the team, said that Hydrophis donaldii had evaded earlier discovery as it prefers estuarine habitats which are poorly surveyed and also not targeted by commercial fisheries.

"We can see over 200 sea snakes in a single night's hunting, whereas sea snake populations have really crashed elsewhere through over-fishing removing their prey and also the snakes drowning in trawling nets," Prof Fry said.

The scientists say the findings extend beyond simply discovering a rare animal. "All venomous animals are bio- resources and provided sources of many life-saving medications such as treatments for high-blood pressure and diabetes.

This reinforces why we need to conserve all of nature as the next billion dollar wonder-drug may come from as unlikely a source as sea snake venom," Prof Fry said in a release.
The discovery has been published in the 'Zootaxa' journal.

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