Alligators and Kayaks

The first question that comes to mind…Are they Kayak Killers or just prehistoric big lizards with brains the size of a walnut?

The answer would be prehistoric lizards whose ancestry can be traced back to the dinosaur days. Yes, their brains are about the size of a large nut, but that doesn't make them any less dangerous to someone that doesn't know their habits. That can lead to a fatal mistake.

In the first two weeks of May, 2006, three women in different areas of the State of Florida were killed by gators. The gators were caught and removed, but I don't think that made the families any less horrified. On the reality side of this incident, those deaths only contributed to a total of 17 deaths since 1948 from alligators. One woman was snorkeling along a creek back to her cabin in Ocala, another was thought to be dangling her feet in a canal in Sunrise Fl, and the third was taken north of St Petersburg, but not believed to have been swimming. The total deaths now, according to FSU is at 25 I believe.

With the drought that has plagued Florida in the recent years, and development draining natural wetlands and creating lake ponds and canals through residential areas, gators have been found moving into the last deep water ways to hunt food for their existence.

Unfortunately, when people become a natural occurrence for them, and especially when someone feeds gators that live near their property, this retrains the gators not only to no longer fear people, but to also associate them with food. In this regard it is Man that has made the gators a threat.

After researching newspapers, Associated Press, and any internet resources to be found, one thing I have discovered is there have been no deaths to anyone on a kayak. In fact, they used a kayak to try and find the first fatality mentioned above.

Everglades Area running tours into the everglades say from June to September it's easy to see many alligators. "A person in a kayak simply does not resemble anything close to a wading bird." "The alligators are not a problem." The gators usually keep their distance from the boats, and the kayakers give them room as well.

A Louisiana kayak tour agency out of New Orleans says in seven years of service, they have never had anyone hurt kayaking through gator country.

Female gators will grow up to nine feet long, and the largest male gator ever recorded was 17 ft 5 inches long, according to Everglades National Park Website.

Some basic rules can save you from being the first death by gator in a kayak.

1. Never feed a gator. If a gator actually cruises up to you then it is time to leave. That gator has both been fed and lost fear of humans, or you are too close to its nest or mate. (Mating season is from April until June in most parts of North Florida. The young hatch from August through October. The mother stays with her young until they are ready to leave by water, usually the first year.

2. If you see young gators, do not approach them. Even though a 12 inch gator may look very cute, an 8 foot mother nearby will not like you for a babysitter.

3. During Mating Season gators commonly become more aggressive. Be aware of this when you are out in the back shallows and creeks during the Spring.

4. If you want to navigate narrow waterways and creeks where gators may be present, wait until the temp drops down below 70. A gator can leap 5 feet from the shore and like to hide on banks in sharp turns of narrow waterways waiting for unsuspecting prey like birds coming down the waterway. They are much less active after temps drop.

5. If young gators cry out, any mother gator nearby will come to its defense. Also if a large gator you are about to take a picture of starts to hiss, or opens its mouth towards you, it is time to leave. You are too close and he is giving last warning.

6. Alligators will normally go under as you approach. They are territorial and will stay in that area, sometimes going under your kayak. This is their normal response, to avoid danger. Never throw anything at them, and keep legs and arms inside the kayak in "gator holes". Gators are very sensitive to sound, so if one approaches too close don't hesitate to blow your pfd whistle or an air horn if on hand.

7. Never bring small pets onboard if you are embarking into suspected alligator waters. They do not see kayaks as food, but they love the easy dinner you packed in for them.

8. Know the signs of being in gator country. Their hearing will many times alert them to jump into the water before you come into sight, so use your hearing as well for their splash. They like to wallow around in mud on hot days to cool off, so watch for mud stained water near the shorelines. Also watch out for any slides where the gators come back into the water, and nests that may be nearby.

After all is said, just remember to be sober to your environment, take precaution by leaving the area if you feel an alligator stalking you in the water, and be wary around the shoreline anytime you are entering or exiting your kayak in overgrown or weedy areas.

Author: Steve Henry, Nov 2007