Wildlife tour gets real when venomous cottonmouth climbs aboard boat off Outer Banks

Mark Price, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Outdoors

If there's anything more unnerving than watching a venomous snake swim toward your boat, it's suspecting it found a way aboard and is hiding.

That happened Sunday to Todd Winn, a human resources officer in the U.S. Navy, as he was enjoying an "eco photography boat tour" off North Carolina's Outer Banks.

"I was taking photos of this cottonmouth swimming at us and then we just lost him. He went under the boat and vanished," Winn told McClatchy News.

"We weren't that far from beach, so we thought it went to shore. But just in case, we searched the boat for 10 minutes, knowing a snake couldn't hold its breath that long. My girlfriend went to the highest part of the boat and stood there, asking: 'Where is it? Is there a snake?' But we never found it."

It was only after the captain, Erik Moore, went to start the engine that they found the two-foot snake coiled comfortably tucked away at the very end of the boat. And nothing they did compelled it to leave, Winn says.

"We figured it would fall off when we moved, but it didn't. It just stayed there on the transom," Winn said. "We had to come up with a plan."


They decide to risk the 30-minute ride back to Virginia and hope it stayed put. If the snake moved forward, Winn says they intended to jump overboard.

"I agreed to sit with a paddle and holler in case it tried moving. I could try to quickly scoop it up and get rid of it," he said. "We were a long way from a hospital and anti-venom, so we were willing to kill it, should it become too aggressive. But I didn't want to do that."

Cottonmouths, also known as water moccasins, are known to reach six feet in North Carolina, and have a venom that can put people in the hospital, according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. "Their venom contains enzymes that cause local destruction of tissue," the National Center for Biotechnology Information reports.

Winn says their plan worked. They made the 30-minute trip back to Virginia and the snake didn't move. Once they were ashore, Moore spent 20 minutes poking it with a stick, trying to get the snake to leave, Winn says.


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