Posted by: Loren Coleman on July 1st, 2009
Alligators are suppose to be freshwater reptiles. Yet these tracks seem to indicate to Florida authorities that a marine alligator or two are doing some beach strolling lately.
Mark Wolfgang was strolling along the shore when someone pointed to the slithering tracks etched across the coarse beach sand.
“You can tell where it came out of the ocean and walked toward the sand dunes,” the 35-year-old computer specialist said, as he stood Wednesday along the beach, just south of the Pineda Causeway [in Florida].
“The paw prints are just a little bit smaller than my hand.”
Experts say the mystery tracks left behind [June 24, 2009] likely belonged to a 5- to 6-foot-long alligator.
The rare beachside tracks also were the latest incident in which alligators — along with a crocodile caught over the weekend in waist-deep waters beneath the Cocoa Beach Pier — made their presence known in the ocean waves off Brevard County.
Typically, alligators shy away from salt water — already the habitat of sharks, sea turtles and other species more familiar to beachgoers — while crocodiles, which thrive in saltwater environments, stick to the coastal areas farther to the south of Brevard.
“It is unusual,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist Lindsey Hord said, referring to the sightings.
“With the crocodiles, we’re on the northern periphery of its habitat range. But animals are always pushing, trying to get into new areas.”
The first of the two seafaring reptile sightings happened Sunday at the Cocoa Beach Pier, when police called for a FWC trapper to remove an alligator from the tourist-filled waters.
However, it turned out to be an American crocodile, a federally protected species that possibly wound its way up the Indian River and crossed over to the Atlantic by land or the Sebastian Inlet area, Hord said.
“It was below the pier, just doing what crocodiles do. The trapper captured it, but had to release it back into the ocean,” said Hord, adding that the creature previously had been tagged by biologists.
Hord said there’s never been a reported case of a bite by an American crocodile on a human.
“Just leave them alone,” Hord said.
There are about 2,000 crocodiles in Florida, a number that has increased over the years, said Hord, who has studied the creatures for three decades.
“It’s a threatened species and deserves special attention,” Hord said. “What would we have done with a shark? It’s his habitat.”
Then, on Tuesday, beachgoers in Satellite Beach were stunned to see what Hord identified as an alligator paddling in the shimmering Atlantic, as a dolphin darted nearby.
A co-worker rushed to tell Steven Harp, a Satellite Beach photographer, about the alligator sighting shortly before 9 a.m. The professional photographer grabbed a camera and found the reptile bobbing along about 50 yards from shore in an area near State Road A1A and Park Avenue.
“I told some tourists to get out of the water, and they were going, ‘Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness,’ ” said Harp, who estimated the animal to be between 8 and 10 feet long. see rest of June 24, 2009, Florida Today news item