By John Johnson
Published December 23, 2015
Scientists feared the last of Australia’s short-nosed sea snakes died about 15 years ago, which makes this new sighting doubly auspicious: A wildlife official snapped a photo of not one but two of the snakes swimming off the western coast—and they were making googly eyes at each other.
“What is even more exciting is that they were courting, suggesting that they are members of a breeding population,” says researcher Blanche D’Anastasi of James Cook University in a press release.
No such snake had been spotted since the species disappeared from its habitat at Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea more than a decade ago. Scientists at JCU confirmed that the photos, taken at Ningaloo Reef, captured images of the sea snakes in the journal Biological Conservation.
“We were blown away, these potentially extinct snakes were there in plain sight, living on one of Australia’s natural icons,” says D’Anastasi. The journal article had another piece of good news: A decent population of another species, called the rare leaf-scaled sea snake, was spotted in Shark Bay, more than 1,000 miles from the snakes’ only previously known habitat, notes Gizmodo.
Both species are officially listed as critically endangered. The good news, however, was tempered with the bad. Generally speaking, sea snakes are on the decline in Western Australia, and the reason “remains unexplained.” (Scientists, do however, have a pretty good idea about why snakes lost their legs.)
This article originally appeared on Newser: 2 ‘Extinct’ Snakes Found Swimming Happily