Friends back in Arizona continually ask me about Florida alligator attacks.
The Florida alligator is regularly in the news because they turn up everywhere close to freshwater. However, you can avoid alligator attacks with some normal common sense.
You would not believe the amount of interest (drama) created when my out-of-state buddies start asking about alligators living in Florida lakes and canals.
They've read stories, or heard on the news, about gators being found in people's houses...under their cars...in motel courtyards...in swimming pools (that's why you ALWAYS turn on the pool light at night)...even in the launch wells at Cape Canaveral.
Well, yeah, all of that stuff is true...but it doesn't happen on a day-to-day basis on the beaches of the Gulf Coast barrier islands where I hang out.
Gator sightings/confrontations happen over on the mainland in St. Petersburg and all of the other inland towns near Florida lakes and canals.
Here is my Number 1 Rule to avoid a gator attack: I do NOT get near freshwater lakes or canals in the state of Florida. Pretty simple, huh? I swim in the Gulf everyday, and I really do not think about a shark attack...but whenever I get near freshwater, my gator antennae goes all the way to the top.
I assume EVERY freshwater Florida lake and canal is a home for gators. It doesn't matter if it is in the middle of downtown, or in the outlying suburban areas. Just know two things: Alliators live in freshwater...and they travel.
Am I being paranoid? I dunno. Check this out:
Here is a shot of the small lake inside the Bay Pines Veterans Hospital grounds a couple miles from me. A nice place for armed forces personnel and their families to walk around...right? Well, let's back up a few more feet. What do we get?
There are now gators living in here!
Alligators may look like chunky, muscular leftovers from the dinosaur age...but they move stealthily.
Once I was doing pull-ups on a condo running track circuit surrounding a lake in Clearwater, FL..and a gator came out of the foliage and slid into the water without even a whisper of noise. I didn't even have to finish my run because my heart rate was about 200 BPM right there.
There are over 1 million gators in Florida...and none of them can be trusted. 50 years ago, they were being killed by hide hunters until laws were enacted to protect them. (Apparently, those laws worked real well.)
Here are some things to keep in mind to avoid alligator attacks...
* Assume ALL Florida lakes and canals have gators living in them.
* If you see an alligator, get away...and be watchful for a mate.
* Believe it or not, gators can outrun a horse for a very short distance. They can move at 30 mph over 10 yards (That's faster than Deion Sanders!)
* Do NOT feed alligators. They may look lazy and stupid if you find one on the bank of a lake...but if they smell food, especially meat, they will move like lightning. (You do not want to be a Happy Meal for one of these monsters.)
* Do NOT try to tickle or poke at them with a stick. A Florida alligator is way too quick for you to react if they decide to move.
* Gators feed after sunset and all night until before sunrise. There is no reason for you to be on the bank of a Florida lake or canal during these hours when you can't see.
A Florida alligator attack is swift, powerful...and violent. Remember, these things are descendants of dinosaurs. (How do you think Tyrannosaurus Rex would act if he spied you on the edge of a tropical lake???)
* If you do decide to sit by a freshwater Florida lake or canal to watch a sunset with your date, be aware of large swirls in the water. That's a key giveaway that a gator is under the surface. DO NOT dangle your feet in the water!
* If you are attacked by an alligator, your only chance is to try to poke it in the eyes, cram your fingers up their nose, or hammer them as hard a you can on the snout. (At least, that's what I've heard. I really don't want to find out. You're only going to have several seconds to respond.)
* When gators get something in their mouth, they will roll violently to disorient and crush their prey. They will ALWAYS try to get to the water where they can roll and drown what they've caught.
* If you are bitten by an alligator, get immediate medical attention. Alligator bites often become seriously infected.
* If you observe an alligator over 4' in length that is menacing humans or is a threat on property, call: 1-866-FWC-GATOR (392-4286)
To avoid the absolute worst of Florida alligator attacks...keep children and pets AWAY from the edge of lakes and canals. DO NOT allow them to wade or sit in shallow water. Always know where they are.