Mystery Saltwater Alligator?

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

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

16 Responses to “Mystery Saltwater Alligator?”

  1. CryptoInformant 2.0 responds:

    A saltwater ALLIGATOR? Well, I’m guessing these people know the difference between a crocodile and an alligator, so…

    If this is for real, then it constitutes a new species, and, hopefully, some more evidence should turn up soon. The tracks themselves are clearly indicative of a crocodilian, though I can’t say much about alligator/crocodile identification based on them alone. Much? I can’t say jack squat with only tracks, regarding that detail.

  2. johnny responds:

    Being from southeast Texas, I can tell you alligators have no problem with salt water. We had possibly the highest density of alligators in the country and they were everywhere from the coast to golf course water hazards.

  3. dogu4 responds:

    I think it’s very interesting but not earth-shattering. The belief that saltwater/freshwater is some kind of insurmountable barrier to aquatic and marine creatures is not quite true and we see it with all kinds of fish which do it as part of their life cycles (salmon, dolly varden, shad, eels, sticklebacks, stripped bass,…), sharks head up rivers, as do whales and other cetaceans, otariids, pinnipeds…the works. Animals are adapted for habitats, it’s true, but have far more versatility than is sometimes recognized even by experts, which is why news like this is interesting.
    However, if it turns out that the alligator is actually inhabiting the saltwater and flourishing, that would be revealing.
    I think in some ways field biology is entering a new era when it comes to observing and reporting animal behaviors. On top of climate change, habitat fragmentation, is requiring animals to venture outside of their preferred habitats. Also this is the first time in history when humans have not been automatically slaying every large animal that should happen to cross our path, and people themselves are more fascinated than ever and more likely to want to be close to wild animals. Maybe it’s the last 50 years of media has had some positive effect with the contributions of National Geographic, Jacques Cousteau, Marty Stouffer, Steve Irwin…and you Loren. Thanks for keepin’ us current on signtings like these.

  4. Fhqwhgads responds:

    For many years, my granddad had a stuffed alligator on display in a glass case at his gas station in Mexico Beach, FL. The story I was always told was that it was shot on the beach.

  5. cmgrace responds:

    I grew up in a small town in Southeast Texas and have seen plenty of alligators swimming in saltwater. In fact, I have seen more in the bay than I have on land.

  6. cryptidsrus responds:

    I think I’m of the mind as Dogu4. “Interesting but not earth-shattering.” Although it IS exciting to know that aligators apparently have adapted themselves to salt-water.
    The world is as full of wonders as ever…:)

  7. bray_beast responds:

    Crocodiles don’t get enough attention. The MonsterQuest about crocodiles was probably the best one besides sasquatch attack 1. 15 foot crocodiles in the U.S.!!? Neato!

  8. battlekow responds:

    “Hord said there’s never been a reported case of a bite by an American crocodile on a human.”

    In the US, anyway…

  9. Alligator responds:

    Florida 1948 – 2005

    Alligator Attacks = 351 Alligator Deaths = 16

    No crocodile injuries or attacks. However

    American Crocodile attacks are recorded in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala though rare.

    A handful of examples exist of alligators being found in a saltwater environment. My money is on young male crocodiles seeking to establish a new territory. Historically they were found as far north as Tampa Bay on the west and Lake Worth on the east.

  10. JackSparrow responds:

    Anyone who has ever visited the Northern half of Australia can tell a story about seeing tracks on a beach. Salties aren’t scared to swim out to sea looking for food. Most beaches up that way warn people not to sleep there at night as the salties come ashore. They’ve been seen swimming out to sea right up through the whole Sth East Asia region.You can just be glad your Alligators for the most part shy away from people over here salties put humans up there with fish,roos and pigs as a food source.

  11. courage responds:

    HAHA if you got one of our crocs over there you’d know about it really quickly. American Aligators are like puppies.

    Anyway .. 2 things.

    1)What stops an Aligator from going into salt water? Our crocs happily go from Salt to fresh

    2) Do Aligators lift them selves up to walk (no belly drag?) our cros only do that when running.

  12. Know it all responds:

    The American Crocodile has been implicated in a number of human fatalities South of Florida where it attains a length of 6 to 7 meters.

    I do recall a report from the 1st half of the 20th century of an American hunter shooting a 4 or 5 meter American Crocodile in Florida and being killed by it as it grabbed the hunter’s thorax as he attempted to land the beast. (Dangerous to Man – Caras (?))

  13. Alligator responds:

    Courage said
    “HAHA if you got one of our crocs over there you’d know about it really quickly. American Alligators are like puppies.”

    No argument here!

    “Anyway .. 2 things.

    1)What stops an Alligator from going into salt water? Our crocs happily go from Salt to fresh”

    Crocodiles posses lingual salt glands, which allow their bodies to excrete significant amounts of salt. This is especially developed in Salties. Alligators have rudimentary lingual glands but cannot excrete the salt, hence they shun the saltwater environment.

    2) Do Alligators lift them selves up to walk (no belly drag?) our cros only do that when running.

    Yes they do. I’ve seen them walk and run fully standing.

    JackSparrow said
    “They’ve been seen swimming out to sea right up through the whole Sth East Asia region.”

    Salties have been known to swim 1000 km at sea and have been found with barnacles on their scales. This ability has allowed them to have one of the widest distributions of any crocodilian species in the world.

  14. dogu4 responds:

    Appreciate the perspective from the experts.
    Considering that the current sea level and coastlines are now a few hundred feet higher than what they were back during the pleistocene, I suppose that fossils from that period are not common, but I wonder if the fossil record of the not too distant past reveals anything about the potential for these species to grow to the legendary proportions sometimes cited in oral histories.
    Also, bearing in mind the modern molecular approaches, I wonder if the species that inhabits the east coast of Africa is the same as the species in Australia.

  15. Alligator responds:

    The species on the east coast of Africa and Madagascar is the Nile Crocodile. The one in Australia is the Estuarine or Saltwater Crocodile. Both large, both notorious for including humans on the diet. The Niles will enter saltwater but don’t seem to be quite as “seagoing” as their eastern cousins. Historically Salties were found in the Seychilles Islands eastward to Vanatau in the Banks Islands and north from Australia to the southern tip of China. Of course, now the range is much reduced, the main population concentration being Australia and New Guinea.

  16. dawgvet responds:

    I have seen plenty of alligators in salt water and brackish rivers of south Georgia. On Wassaw island, I heard about a big gator who lived in the interior in the freshwater ponds but would walk along the beach.

    Reports of an alligator on a beach doesn’t seem that unusual to me.

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