Two-year-old Lane Graves died on June 14 at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa after being attacked by an alligator. When the gator lunged for him just after dark at the Seven Seas Lagoon section of the resort, his mother and father immediately jumped into the water to rescue him but were unable to free him from the alligator’s jaws. His body was recovered the next afternoon fully intact.
Like the ten plus toddlers who have died because they were left in cars since the start of the summer season, Lane’s death is a horrific tragedy. Nothing will fill the void that the parents of these children are experiencing. The most we can do is learn from their deaths.
It may surprise you that alligator deaths are somewhat rare. Since records have been kept in 1947, there have been only 24 deaths. In perspective that’s one death every three years. When that person is a loved one the statistics are outrageous.
A week before Baby Graves’ tragic death, an alligator was discovered with a man’s body in its mouth in Lake Hunter in Lakeland, Florida.
Last year two deaths involving alligators were reported in Florida though only one was officially blamed on an alligator. One involved a 22-year old man whose body was found in a pond in Brevard County, Florida. A month before that, a 62-year old man died while snorkeling at Blue Spring State Park near Orange City, Florida. Because no one witnessed the actual attack, it may not have been added to the death toll. That’s not comforting.
Last summer a man in Orange County Texas in his late twenties died after ignoring posted signs warning of alligators in the area. One of the last things he did before lunging into the water was taunt a nearby alligator.
Whether you’re a mariner on the high seas or the occasional tourist, if you travel long enough and wide enough, you’re likely going to find yourself in a land where gators and crocodiles are abundant. It could be a trip to Florida, or a cruise to some tropical island.
Avoid water and swimming at night. Alligators come out to feed from dawn to dusk. That’s not to say, you won’t be attacked during the day if you swim in a pond alligators inhabit. Use common sense.
Alligators feed on small animals, birds, and turtles. They’re not particularly interested in adult humans. They’re way too big. Children and pets are the size of the creatures they hunt so take precautions to safeguard them. With splashing, even adults submerged in water look more like a meal to a ravenous gator.
Crouching or kneeling before an alligator is something only a moron would do. Let me tell you a story about Lester. There was this photographer who thought it was pretty cool to get in the face of an alligator so he could take his picture. Evidently Lester never heard of using a longer lens to bring him up closer. When he squatted down, Lester was signing his own death warrant. All the gator had to do was execute it. You see, when Lester knelt, he made two fatal mistakes with one motion. He made himself smaller by crouching, and he put his body in a mechanical disadvantage. With one swift lunge, that gator would have had Lester’s camera and his neck crushed in the vice of his jaws before he even pressed the shutter. The gator let Lester live that day, but given his lack of common sense, my money is on the gator next time round, who has a brain no bigger than a walnut but evidently bigger than Lester’s.
Don’t feed alligators. It’s against the law. It’s also against common sense. Alligators who get fed will become emboldened and become aggressive much like bears who are fed. You may get away with feeding an alligator, but it may cost the next person who encounters the gator his life.
Don’t approach an alligator and don’t lunge or startle one. They may look cool on the back of a postcard, but his jaws clenched firmly in your ass won’t look so cool at all. I witnessed a tourist with a German accent who did one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen. A seven foot alligator was resting under a grove of trees inside Everglade Park. The woman, not more than three feet away, decided she wanted her picture taken with him. So she sat down on a rail, her rather large buttocks dangling before the gator’s snout. I don’t know if the gator already had a full belly or whether he was repulsed by the sight, but she walked away unscathed. Never approach a gator, and never turn your back on one.
While it may be common for residents of Florida and other tropical climes to encounter alligators on a regular basis, visitors from the Midwest and elsewhere are not accustomed to being in proximity to them. Therefore, they’re not aware of possible dangers they pose. Disney claims it is reviewing its signage. Wow! Really? That’s mighty generous of them. Currently their signs read: Do not feed or go near the alligators.
Tourists unaware of the presence of alligators might assume they’re safe since they have no intention of feeding them. This false sense of security can be fatal as it was to Baby Lane. Perhaps the sign should read: Alligators in the Area. Exercise Caution. At least, visitors would know a danger exists and that they need to be wary.
Alligators are opportunistic predators. It’s their business to conceal themselves in water and reeds. Floridians know this. Many guests to the state do not. An alligator when submerged has only his eyes above the water. At the other end of this body is a powerful tail and legs that allows him to lunge at unsuspecting prey as fast as twenty miles an hour.
It’s been said that if you hit an alligator in the eye with your fingers or fist, it will release you. Good luck with that one! Most professionals will admit that’s hogwash. When an alligator’s jaws are clamped around your torso, it’s hard to have the presence of mind to do anything. Moreover, the gator may have you at such an angle that you can’t even reach his eyes. The best you can do is struggle like hell hoping the alligator realizes his mistake and lets you go.
Alligators By the Numbers
Here’s a little quiz for you; cover up one column and see if you can tell its relationship to alligators. Good luck!
1.3 million__________ the number of alligators in Florida
383 ________________ the number of people bitten in Florida since 1947
09 _________________ how many feet the average female alligator will grow
80 _________________ the number of teeth in an alligator’s mouth
600 ________________ the number of pounds a grown gator weighs
40 _________________ the number of eggs a female lays
65 _________________ the number of days for gators to hatch
05 _________________ the number of alligators that will reach adulthood
12 _________________ how many feet the average male will grow
19 _________________ the record length for an alligator
It can be a dangerous world out there, even when you’re having fun. But with a little common sense and a little attention to your surroundings, you can have the time of your life. Smooth sailing out there on the seas of life.
The Uncommon Mariner