|Photo credit Brian G. Fry|
“H. donaldii had evaded earlier discovery as it prefers estuarine habitats that are poorly surveyed and not targeted by commercial fisheries”, explained Dr. Bryan Fry, a co-author on the discovery paper and an Associate Professor at the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences.
The scientists collected nine specimens of this ‘viviparous or true’ sea snake from the coastal estuarine habitats of Weipa on the Queensland coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
“Weipa really is one of the last sea snake ‘Serengetis’. 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.”
“All venomous animals are bio-resources and have 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.”
H. donaldii is named in honor of David Donald, Dr. Fry’s long-time boat captain.
“Quite simply we would not have found this snake without Dave’s unique knowledge of the area. I told him we wanted to survey as many distinct types of habitat as possible and he guided us to the perfect spots,” Dr. Fry said.
It is also given the common-name ‘rough-scaled sea snake’ to reflect the unique scalation.
“We don’t know why it has been evolutionarily selected to have such unique scalation, but we will next study its ecology to learn more about it,” the scientist concluded.
KANISHKA D. B. UKUWELA, KATE L. SANDERS & BRYAN G. FRY. 2012. Hydrophis donaldi (Elapidae, Hydrophiinae), a highly distinctive new species of sea snake from northern Australia. Zootaxa 3201: 45–57