Researchers from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts examined formalin-filled jars of snakes and found two sea snakes with the same name on the label, which had been there since being collected in the 1800s.
"But they looked different and didn't seem to belong to the same group of snakes," researcher John Elmberg from Kristianstad University in Sweden said. "That was where the detective work began. After comparing the sea snakes with other similar species in other museums in Europe it was even more obvious that we had found a new distinct sea snake."
The newly discovered mosaic sea snake, named after its unusually patterned skin, lives in one of the world's most endangered environments -- the tropical coral reefs around Northern Australia and Southern New Guinea.
The snake never goes ashore and now that it has been identified it is apparent it is relatively common in the seas of the region, a Kristianstad release said.
"Museums are probably full of undiscovered species, and are an invaluable archive worthy of protection, just like the jungle itself," Elmberg said.