An underweight and dehydrated sea krait found on Takapuna beach and brought into Auckland Zoo in December 2022 - now rehabilitated but unable to be returned to the wild, is to play a key advocacy role for this beautiful but frequently misunderstood species.

From today, visitors to Auckland Zoo will be able to see and learn about the yellow-lipped sea krait (a species of sea snake in the genus Laticauda) from the visitor viewing gallery of the Zoo’s vet hospital, the New Zealand Centre for Conservation Medicine (NZCCM).

“Sea kraits are semi-aquatic and live in warm waters of the tropical Indo-Pacific region and are rare accidental visitors to New Zealand waters, but as our climate continues to warm and impact sea temperatures and currents, we’re likely to see more of them,” says Auckland Zoo’s head of animal care and conservation and herpetologist, Richard Gibson.

“We’re delighted that for the first time in Auckland Zoo’s 101-year history, our visitors will have the chance to marvel at a real snake.

“This sea krait offers us all an amazing opportunity to learn more about an extraordinary group of animals which have adapted to living in just about every conceivable habitat on the planet - from our deserts and woodlands to our rainforests and oceans - and to capture, subdue and swallow prey larger than their own heads, and all with no arms or legs! The yellow-lipped sea krait, for example, while spending much of its time in the sea, is partly terrestrial and comes onto land to bask, rest, and breed,” says Richard.

The Zoo has been liaising with its colleagues at the Department of Conservation (DOC) while rehabilitating this tropical ectotherm that would be unlikely to survive were it to be released back to the wild in the too-cold waters of New Zealand.

“Displaying this now healthy sea krait at Auckland Zoo is a unique opportunity for Kiwis to learn more about the three species of sea krait and one true sea snake species that can be found in New Zealanders waters – primarily in the upper North Island,” says DOC Operations Manager Tāmaki Makaurau, Rebecca Rush.  

“DOC receives public reports and sightings of sea kraits and yellow-bellied sea snakes a few times a year. They are considered a vagrant native species and as such they are protected under the Wildlife Act (1953). They are unable to establish in New Zealand as it is too cold for these species to survive the winter.”

“We are keen for everyone to understand that while sea kraits and yellow-bellied sea snakes are highly venomous, they are docile, and rarely bite unless harassed, therefore handling them puts people at risk of being bitten. If you do spot a sea krait or sea snake, either in the water or on the beach, we advise that you do not touch it, give it plenty of space, and call the 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) hotline, explains Rebecca.

Auckland Zoo works closely with the Department of Conservation and Rebecca says we’ve had plenty of success stories: “Previous conservation successes include rehabilitating sea turtles to help increase their chance of survival when re-released into the wild, and hand-rearing New Zealand’s most endangered bird - the tara iti / New Zealand fairy tern. We greatly value the Zoo’s contribution to the wildlife of Aotearoa.”

Viewing the sea krait: This yellow-lipped sea krait has a complex climate-controlled habitat at the Zoo to reflect the temperature, humidity and even currents (via a wave maker) of its wild tropical environment. It also includes sand, pebbles, shell, and old coral that provide hiding and foraging opportunities and surfaces for good bacterial to grow – providing this sea krait with plenty of choice about where it wants to be at any given time. As such, visitors should be aware that it may choose areas that mean it may not always be highly visible.

Sea Snake Fast Facts

  • Sea kraits are semi-aquatic species of sea snakes (marine reptiles) that spend up to 50% of their time on land – where they come to bask, rest and breed. Females are larger than males and can grow up to 1.7m and weigh over 1kg.
  • The yellow-lipped sea krait (Laticauda colubrina) is also known as the Colubrine sea krait or banded sea krait. Striking blue steel in colour with black banding along its body, it has the widest distribution of any sea krait. It is distributed throughout the Indo-Pacific region - from the eastern coast of India through to western Pacific islands as far as Tonga and is the second most encountered sea snake in Aotearoa.
  • Marine snakes in New Zealand waters: 3 species of sea krait and one species of sea snake can occasionally be found in New Zealand waters; the yellow-lipped (or banded or Colubrine) sea krait; the Saint Giron’s sea krait and the brown-lipped sea krait, and the yellow-bellied sea snake.
  • At Auckland Zoo: In the wild, the yellow-lipped sea krait feeds almost exclusively on a variety of eels. Here at Auckland Zoo, our ectotherm specialists have successfully habituated this krait to eat pre-killed sustainably farmed giant kokopu fry– a nutritious substitute. 
  • Stay safe and contact DOC: Sea kraits that arrive in New Zealand waters are often sick and/or beach wrecked. While highly venomous, they are gentle and rarely bite unless harassed, therefore handling them puts anyone at risk of being bitten. Do not touch these snakes, give them plenty of space, and call the hotline - 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468)
  • Useful links: Sea snakes and kraits: Marine fish and reptiles (