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Surfing gator surprises beach goers

By Staff | Apr 18, 2016

Ron and Jan Fleming hit the beach each and every day, so they see the variety of wildlife the Gulf of Mexico can bring.

But an alligator?

“That was a first for us,” said Jan Fleming.

It took a couple of hours to fish this alligator out of the gulf on Fort Myers Beach on Thursday, but when it was done a 7.5-footer was finally secured and hauled off.

But sure enough, there it was on Thursday, bobbing up and down in the water near the Delmar Avenue beach access on Fort Myers Beach.

“At first, our friend said ‘It looks like there’s a log out there,” Fleming said. “Then my husband said, ‘No, I think it’s a gator.'”

They called beach patrol around 11 a.m. and about 30 minutes later the town’s public works crew, searching about on a wave runner, was joined by members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conversation Commission (FWC) in an effort to corral the unwelcome visitor.

“It took about two hours to bring him because he’d disappear for about 15 or 20 minutes at a time before he’d resurface,” Fleming said. “By this time about 200 people had gathered and just when everyone was ready to give up, there he’d be again and everyone would yell ‘There it is, there it is!'”

The gator would get as close as six feet to the shore, Fleming said, and was finally nabbed with a lasso net. Upon examination, Fleming said officials estimated his size at 7-and-a-half feet, 150 pounds.

What a fresh-water reptile was doing in the salt-water gulf remains a mystery.

“They did tell us that alligators can survive in salt water for hours if not days, as long as it has access to fresh water from time to time,” Fleming said of the experts at the scene. “They told us he’s either off to a gator farm, or a second place that I can’t remember, or that he’s done for.”

Fleming said some on the beach wondered if the recent Lake Okeechobee releases of fresh water may have contributed to the gator’s desire to enter the gulf.

That’s speculation,” said Gary Morse, a spokesman for the FWC. “We find gators using salt water to travel from one body of fresh water to another. And they are are more active as the weather warms up.”

Morse also confirmed the gator was harvested for its meat and hide.

“That defers the cost to taxpayers,” he said of the option of putting the gator into a rescue program.