Coming Face To Face With A Deadly Sea Snake

While scuba diving in the Philippines recently, I spotted a beautiful but deadly black and white banded sea snake. I started taking photos and then I realised the sea snake had started taking an interest in me…

I’m back from two glorious weeks in the Philippines and all in one piece too, which I’m all the more thankful for after this particular incident with a sea snake. I was diving at Sogod Bay in Southern Leyte, which is, incidentally, a spectacular place to go scuba diving. The whole area is totally unspoilt at the moment, with very few hotels or other tourist amenities – just a couple of dive resorts like the guys I was diving with at Sogod Bay Scuba Resort. It must have been what Thailand looked like 20 years ago.

Anyway, I was taking photos underwater with my big Nikon and Ikelite rig. I’d lent my trusty Canon IXUS camera to Pedro, my Divemaster, so he could take some pix as well if he wanted. Pedro has got the sharpest eyes of pretty much any dive guide I’ve met and is brilliant at finding critters on the reef. When I spotted the sea snake, I started following it along the reef at a respectful distance, snapping away and trying to capture its fast moving grace. I was staring at the snake through the viewfinder of my camera, which tends to focus your mind on nothing else but what you can see. It suddenly occured to me that the sea snake was actually getting closer to me even though I was stationary. It then occured to me that it was so close I couldn’t get it in focus. I peered over the top of my camera. And the sea snake peered straight back at me:

Sea Snake Scuba Diving Philippines
Me making a new friend underwater. Photo: Pedro Batestil

It really is quite an eerie feeling to be looking into the eyes of a snake while both of you are suspended underwater. I already knew that sea snakes rarely attack people and even if they do, they have a hard job getting a purchase with their fangs to inject their deadly venom. Even so, the sea snake was currently about 12 inches from my fingers holding the camera. I suddenly realised what was going on – the snake was staring at its own reflection in the dome port of my camera. I hoped it wasn’t going to start headbutting the camera. Or decide to wrap itself round the strobe handle which I was holding. Or wrap itself round my leg, for that matter. Luckily I didn’t have to think about it too much longer – after a couple more seconds, the snake gently slipped away through the water, back onto the reef and then was gone. Pedro, meanwhile, had been keeping close watch and taking photos – it’s his handiwork about that caught the moment when I came face to face with a deadly sea snake.

Here’s a couple of the many, many photos I took of the sea snake while far enough away from it to focus the lens:

Sea Snake on the Coral Reef Philippines

Sea Snake Close Up Philippines

I’ll be writing more about scuba diving in the Philippines on my scuba diving blog,

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  1. Fantastic photos, Chris. Especially the first one.
    I just love those snakes, the colours are simply beautiful. And, yes, the philippines is a fantastic place to catch an eyeful of them.
    Can’t wait to hear more about the diving at Leyte –

  2. Thanks Nath! I have to confess I did zap the photos with the “Auto Colours” button in Macromedia Fireworks, and it is quite staggering how much it enhances the photo. Taking pix underwater is really tricky and I’ve got a lot more to learn, but it’s a lot of fun too…

  3. Hi Chris,
    How deep were you with those two cameras in the water?

  4. With the sea snake, I was only about 5 metres down. The Canon IXUS has a Canon-made housing which works to 30 metres (100 feet) and the Ikelite housing for the Nikon is good to 60 metres (180 feet). I definitely recommend both housings, although the Ikelite is expensive and bulky and needs an external strobe, while the Canon housing is pretty cheap and compact.

  5. wow! you got yourself a really great set of pictures Chris.

    Does it cost much for a underwater camera, a diving package and accommodations in Southern Leyte?

  6. I’m searching for a black and white banded something I just saw while snorkeling in Bora Bora. It was only about 8 – 12 inches long. Sure looked like a snake, It was stationary on some coral sucking at it. Any one have any idea?

  7. snakeluvr says:

    wow, are you lucky to have encountered one of those units! Great pix too btw. That is one marine critter I am longing to see and hopefully interact with.

  8. Wow, those are beautiful pictures! I especially like the closeup of the snake.\n\nWould you believe people actually sell sea snakes as “eels” at the Philippine equivalent of county fairs? I bought one years ago. I had grown up with snakes, but they were mostly land snakes. When I asked my dad what kind of snake had belly scales that resembled sand, he asked to see a picture of what I had bought. I showed him the snake in my hand and he said it was a beautiful specimen of sea snake, but he also advised me to set it free as it would probably not survive. I looked it up and true enough, sea snakes are very hard to keep alive. I set that thing free during a weekend trip to the beach. Had to explain myself to the mothers freaking out when they saw me in a kayak setting a poisonous snake free. Hahaha!

  9. Suzanna Smit says:

    They are so close up! It is so cool! And Beautiful!

  10. Von Alvarez says:

    I might have seen one of these snakes in the beach at the seashore floating,at first it looked like a skipping rope but it was a dead snake,i was going to pick it up because it looks unusual to me but then the waves tossed ’em farther away and i didn’t even knew it was a deadly snake!!!

  11. I saw one of these sunbathing on the sand between the coral on the west coast of Mauritius last week (October 2011). I was snorkling in only about 1-2 metres depth. It was about 80cm long and absolutely beautiful. I did not realize it was deadly, luckily.

  12. Oooohhh God!!! i just got back from a holiday with my partner in southern leyte. I encountered this black and white snake in tangkaan point in padre burgos in S. Leyte. I was snorkelling in this marine sanctuary and i saw this snake coming to me and i was really freaking out because i am very scared of snake. I didnt continue snorkelling that time. My partner told me that it was not coming to me but to breathe above the water and then suddenly get back to the coral reef. The coral reefs in Tangkaan Point Sogod bay was magnificent and excellent.
    I said to myself not to get back snorkelling after that incident but my partner told me that it was not coming after me. I tried again snorkelling in that area and for the second time i encountered again this sea snake in the same area and i was really scared to death.
    On the other hand, it was worth snorkelling in that place. it was the best snorkelling place i’ve ever had in the whole entire snorkelling experience i had.
    You got a good photo of this snake. Brilliant photography you have.

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