Spring break is supposed to bring more life to Galveston’s beaches, but in recent weeks it seems wildlife is trying to beat the crowds.
Last week, a Houston news station reported that “Spring breakers could be in for a shock this year” because of the presence of rattlesnakes on the island’s West End.
But for islanders and wildlife experts, the news isn’t exactly, well, news.
“That’s part of living on Galveston,” said Hal Newsom, the owner of Animal Control-Wildlife Inc., a Houston-based company whose website asserts it specializes in “humane capture of various indoor and outdoor nuisance animals.”
This is the time of year when the snakes start coming out of hibernation and start seeking out food, like rodents. That, along with nice weather that brings more people out to the beach, may make it seem like there are more snakes than usual.
But Newsom, along with officials from the Galveston Island Beach Patrol and Galveston Police Department, said there had been no unusual number of snakes reported in Galveston this year, nor any reports of snake bites.
The news report isn’t causing Galveston tourism officials to take any drastic actions.
Mary Beth Bassett, a spokeswoman for the Galveston Park Board of Trustees, said Friday that there was no plan to post new warnings to beach-goers about snakes ahead of spring break.
Signs have long been posted warning beach-goers against walking through the dunes on the West End. Officials advise using wooden walkovers to get to the beach, both to avoid snakebites and to preserve snake habitats.
Rattlesnakes are not the only venomous animals found in Galveston. Recently, local beach-watchers reported an increase in the number of Portuguese Men o’ War washing up on the island’s beaches.
Bright blue and armed with tendrils that can produce nasty stings, men o’ war live in warm ocean climates and can be washed ashore by wind and tide
But despite a recent flurry of Facebook posts about the men o’ war on the seawall beach, beach patrol commander Peter Davis said lifeguards hadn’t noted any increased number and had not treated any stings.
“Usually, the spring is not a heavy time for jellyfish or men o’ war,” Davis said.
When marine animals such as jellyfish do pose an increased threat to swimmers, the beach patrol flies purple warning flags at its lifeguard stations, Bassett said.
Like sharks, stingrays and water-borne bacteria, snakes and jellyfish are part of Galveston’s ecosystem, Davis said.
In recent years, he said, stories about their presence in Galveston waters have seemingly become widespread more frequently because of social media. He pointed to one story that was passed around that purported to show a Great White Shark caught off Galveston.
The shark was actually caught near Nova Scotia.
Animal appearances seem to go in cycles, Davis said. In some years there are more sightings of snakes than sharks, and in others, the reverse is true.
“If you average it out, it really hasn’t increased over time,” Davis said.