Category Archives: Gulf of Mexico

Have sea snakes entered the Gulf of Mexico?

It emerged from a weedline that covered the edges of the 18 Mile Light (Sabine Bank Lighthouse) out of Sabine Pass, TX on the Texas-Louisiana border.

“It had white/bluish and black bands and came from under the weeds and then swam to the surface. It was a sea snake and I have no doubts about what I saw,” said one angler I interviewed in person who wishes to remain anonymous.

The angler said the “snake” had a paddle-like tail and he and his fishing partner observed it for several minutes.

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Banded Sea Krait (Photo courtesy NOAA Photo)

The problem is there are not supposed to be any sea snakes in Gulf waters. They dwell the Pacific although in the past there has been some banter about whether or not they would make it through the Panama Canal.

I got that report a couple of years back and then sort of filed in the “X” category for review later on down the road.

Then I spoke with someone who told me about catching a big diamondback rattlesnake near High Island, TX.. He said this as he brought me a king snake for my collection and we spent an hour talking about serpents. And just as he was done relating the story of the rattler, he dropped a bombshell.

“The craziest thing I ever saw was a  banded sea krait at one of the rigs off of the Bolivar Peninsula,” he said.

He reported seeing the snake swimming around a rig that he had paddled his kayak to on a calm day.

A couple of things happened when I got this report. First, he called it a “banded sea krait” which is a specific type of sea snake. There are numerous species.

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This is what two separate eyewitnesses reported seeing in close proximity in the Gulf of Mexico.

Then I realized this was only about 25 miles from where the other sighting came from which described a banded sea krait. These two individuals did not know each other and the reports were unsolicited. In other words there was no collusion.

Once again there are supposed to be no sea snakes in Texas.

A possible candidate for the sightings is the snake eel which is present in the Gulf of Mexico and has similar markings to a banded sea krait. They are established in the Gulf and would be a species found around an oil rig or a structure like the 18 Mile Light although I have never spoken with anyone who has ever reported seeing one and that includes divers-including myself.

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Snake Eel (Photo courtesy NOAA)

There are several reports of beaded sea snake that allegedly washed up in Florida after a red tide event. There are also a few stories of sea snakes reportedly being found in different areas of the Caribbean.

Bloggers blame ship ballasts for carrying snakes from the Pacific and then unintentionally releasing them into the Gulf. It is unlikely but the fact is you just never know.

A recent video shows a snake that appears to be a sea snake in the Gulf of Maine-far from their range.

If you think you might have seen a sea snake in the Gulf of Mexico email me at chester@chestermoore.com. I would appreciate any accounts, photos or video.

Sea snakes are fascinating creatures and their presence in the Gulf although unlikely is not impossible.

Chester Moore, Jr.

(To contact Chester Moore e-mail chester@chestermoore.com. To subscribe to this blog enter your email address in the box on the top right of this page.)

“Teeth” in the Gulf

“Teeth”!
“That is next movie they need to make. We’ve got one about a killer shark but they need to make one about a killer gar,” said my Dad.
“Wouldn’t that be cool?” he asked as we sat on the side of the road between Bridge City and Port Arthur, TX fishing for alligator garfish.
At eight-years-of age I thought that would be epic to say the least and if any of the producers of such high art as “Sharktopus” are reading this blog, it very well could become the next SyFy Original.
Just sign those royalty checks to “Chester Moore” please.
Dad always liked to make me laugh and that certainly did but there certainly are not a bunch of garfish attacks to report.
There is however something quite interesting.
15240140_10153905413465780_2058860035_nWhile “Jaws” is on the minds of beachgoers in Texas (our variety-bulls, lemons, blacktips) “Teeth” is soaking up some of the same salty waters.
Angler Marcus Heflin caught a sizable alligator garfish while fishing the surf at Sea Rim State Park at Sabine Pass along the Texas-Louisiana border.
This was the first gar I have heard of on the beach anywhere along the Gulf Coast although I have long suspected they are there.
As a child I had a collection of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazines and one of them had a profile of Sea Rim State Park-where Heflin caught the gar pictured above.
It had fishing hotspots and there were several marked for garfish in the surf.
Garfish are considered a freshwater species but do well along the Gulf Coast. I grew up fishing for them in Sabine Lake and surrounding waters, a bay that at its southern end is only seven miles from the surf.
Mobile Bay in Alabama is a hotbed of alligator garfish activity and they are present in numerous salt marshes along the Louisiana coast.
Still, you can find almost no references to garfish in the surf.
The question is just how common they are in Gulf waters and how far out do they go?
These are very mysterious fish with little known about their life cycles or habits in comparison to America fish for comparable size.
So, if you’r ever at the beach and see something that looks kind of like a mutated alligator swim beside you don’t worry.
You just have had an encounter with “Teeth”.
There is no danger to be concerned with except in my eight-year-old imagination where a ravaging gar seemed like an intriguing proposition.
And to be perfectly honest it still does.
Chester Moore, Jr.

Great Whites of the Gulf

The eyes.
Coal black.
Intense.
Ominous.
There is something powerful about the eyes of a great white shark.
In the 1975 blockbuster “Jaws”, obsessed shark hunter Capt. Quint describes them as “lifeless eyes…black eyes…like a doll’s eyes”.
As an 18 footer turned its eye to look at me while on a cage diving expedition to the Farallon Islands I quickly disagreed with Quint. Black they were but lifeless the sharks’ eyes were not.
They were filled with purpose. To kill. To eat. To survive.
Long believed extinct in the Gulf of Mexico or at least an extremely rare visitor, it seems there are survivors.
In 2014, “Katharine” and “Betsy”, two young great whites were verified in Gulf waters.

Public Domain Photo

Both of these sharks were fitted with SPOT transmitters by research/conservation group OCEARCH. These tags communicate with satellites and when the information from those tags if fed back to OCEARCH, it allows the public to view their movements at OCEARCH.org.
When, Katharine, all 2300 pounds of her, staked out the stretch of coastline off of Panama City Beach, Fla., people paid attention. More than four million logged onto the OCEARCH website, crashing the server the week and causing a media firestorm.
“Those two sharks, Katharine in particular, drew an enormous amount of attention to great white sharks in a very positive way and the interactive nature of the site, gave people a way to see great white movements take place in a way never before possible,” said OCEARCH founder Chris Fischer.
“We are solving the life history puzzle of ‘Jaws’ out of the Cape Cod area for the first time in history and it has been interesting to see unfold.”
Cape Cod is one thing but the Gulf of Mexico? That’s the domain of bull sharks and black tips, not great whites. Right?
Wrong.
Great white populations are on the rise due to 20 plus years of gill nets being banned along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. These nets caught and killed many juvenile great whites that are born on the East Coast and migrate into the Gulf to feed.
The shallow, nearshore areas along the eastern seaboard and portions of the Gulf Coast, especially Florida are “nursery” areas where the younger sharks spend their time. Both Katharine and Betsy were tagged off of Cape Cod in August 2013 and covered thousands of miles of water before entering the Gulf.
In 2005 I wrote an article called “Jaws in the Gulf” for Tide magazine recalling historical references and at the time a recent sighting. The article was a bit controversial as great whites in the Gulf seemed too magnificent to believe.
Now it has been vindicated. But that’s not the point. Seeking out the mysterious is a big part of what we do.
The point is the most iconic shark in the planet is proven to inhabit the Gulf and could be on the rise. Fishermen and conservationists need to know so these great predators can be protected.
NOAA has some extremely interesting older data on great whites in the Gulf of Mexico. Their earliest recorded white shark was off the coast of Sarasota, Fla on a set line in the winter of 1937. Another specimen was caught in the same area in 1943.
In February 1965, a female was captured in a net intended for bottlenose dolphins at Mullet Key near St. Petersburg. In addition, National Marine Fisheries Service officials reported 35 great whites as bycatch in the Japanese longline fishery in the Gulf from 1979 through 1982.
Those sharks died but last year the first great white ever known to be caught from the surf was taken by an angler in Panama City Beach, Fla.
Instead of killing it, he fitted it with a tag, photographed and released it.
Knowing about great whites, their rarity and conservation problems is crucial so great whites meet happy endings when encountered by anglers-the user group most likely to see them.
It might seem counterintuitive to save something that can and occasionally does eat humans. But the fact is we need things like great white sharks to keep us humble, to remind us, we are vulnerable and to keep us in a sense of wonder.
That was the state I was in gazing out onto the Gulf of Mexico while fishing the 61st St. Pier in Galveston, TX with my Dad at age 12.
“It’s a shame we don’t have a lot of great whites off our coast,” I told him.
“Maybe we do. We just haven’ found them yet,” Dad replied.
Dad is gone now and I sure would like to tell him, they have been found. Great whites dwell the Gulf of Mexico and you never know. There might have been one cruising the surf just beyond that pier on that night so long ago.
It is entirely possible.

 Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Manta Ray found just off TX beach (Video)

Last week readers Andy Allen and Reggie Begelton captured this video of a large manta ray swimming a mile west of the Sabine Jetties, just off the beach at Sea Rim State Park out of Sabine Pass, TX.
Manta rays are present in the Gulf of Mexico but sightings are rare and sightings with a mile of the beach are virtually unheard of in Texas.

According to Wikipedia, swimming behavior in mantas differs across habitats: when travelling over deep water, they swim at a constant rate in a straight line, while further inshore they usually bask or swim idly around. Mantas may travel alone or in groups of up to 50. They may associate with other fish species as well as sea birds and marine mammals. Mantas sometimes breach, leaping partially or entirely out of the water. Individuals in a group may make aerial jumps one after the other. These leaps come in three forms: forward leaps where the fish lands head first, similar jumps with a tail first re-entry or somersault. The reason for breaching is not known; possible explanations include mating rituals, birthing, communication, or the removal of parasites and remora.
“Manta rays have broad heads, triangular pectoral fins, and horn-shaped cephalic fins located on either side of their mouths. They have horizontally flattened bodies with eyes on the sides of their heads behind the cephalic fins, and gill slits on their ventral surfaces. Their tails lack skeletal support and are shorter than their disc-like bodies.  The dorsal fins are small and at the base of the tail.”
“The largest mantas can reach 1,350 kg (2,980 lb). In both species the width is approximately 2.2 times the length of the body; M. birostris reaches at least 7 m (23 ft) in width while M. alfredi reaches about 5.5 m (18 ft). Dorsally, mantas are typically black or dark in color with pale markings on their “shoulders”. Ventrally, they are usually white or pale with distinctive dark markings by which individual mantas can be recognized. All-black color morphs are known to exist. The skin is covered in mucus which protects it from infection.”
Chester Moore, Jr.