During a phone chat this past week my sister Kath narrated a scary, weird event that she and her husband experienced.
For many years they’ve wintered in Naples, Florida. Their condo is only a ten minute walk from the Gulf of Mexico. Wiggins State Park is there, bordered by a beautiful sugar-sand beach that extends south and north for miles.
Most mornings around 8:00 or so, the two of them like to walk to the ocean. There might be something fascinating washed up onto the beach, or maybe they’d see interesting birds, or a pod of dolphins leaping high as they fished for their breakfasts. (One year three huge dolphins roared right up to the water’s edge an inch from my feet to snatch fish they’d encircled and forced into the shoreline. The sandy ground trembled, reflecting their enormous power. I will never, ever forget it.)
On this day, with the sea calm and the sun beaming down, they strolled along the beach, noting a few other people scattered up and down its length. One older gentleman had waded out about 40 feet into the Gulf, to a sandbar created by a recent storm. In just over waist-deep water he was communing with a small pod of dolphins that circled around him, ever curious. They were so close that he could touch them. The man was lost in wonder. So were the dolphins, I imagine...Two different worlds, meeting eye-to-eye.
But, then, something odd caught Kath’s eye.
Hmm. The dolphins showed as sleek gray forms out there, as they moved round the man, but a long, more distant dark shadow was approaching that seemed- different, she thought. Motions were from side to side, snakelike, and the skin looked rougher, almost plated, the eyes were huge and on top of those hea...Oh, Lord!
Kath gasped! “Look at that, Joe! That new long, dark shadow is not more dolphins, It’s... Alligators!!!”
Joe gasped. There was not one, not two, but THREE large ‘gators, perhaps ten feet each in length, lined up nose-to tail like a sinuous train, making for the guy.
They were moving faster now, having noticed an easy-as-pie breakfast for the taking. Their potential victim was, of course, oblivious.
(Alligators in the ocean? Who’d ever entertain such an absurd notion!)
In fact, these were males, during mating season, that had wandered from the brackish water of the park’s canals out into the calm Gulf, hungry, eager, opportunistic.
Um, lookie there: Fresh meat. Maybe females, too...
My sister emailed what went down.
...“There was no mistaking their flat heads and HUGE eyes, with squared off snouts...their scales were shiny in the morning sun when they surfaced: they were very stealthy as they swam...I scanned the beach for swimmers. Some distance up shore there was a lone guy out in the water, older, slightly built and bald, enjoying the friendly dolphins surrounding him. I ran up the beach as fast as I could, with Joe trailing close behind. Once I arrived where he was standing on the sand bar I hollered, but he didn’t respond.
He didn’t turn.
Did he not hear me?
These alligators were closing in on him. I was seconds away from jumping into the water to try to save this guy- when he suddenly turned around, acknowledging my screams.
“SIR< PLEASE< COME ASHORE!!”
He hated to leave the magic: it’s rare for dolphins to play like this, so, he took his time walking toward me. His expression was like, ‘What?! Why are you yelling at me?? Okay, okay, I'll come in; hold on...’
“QUICKLY,” I kept screaming! (I didn't want to yell “ALLIGATORS!” because- what if he panicked?) Just as he waded out of the water to me, they arrived exactly where he’d been standing! The dolphins had wisely moved into deeper water. And soon- the gators were gone, too, toward the north. Poof! My guess is, if he’d been out there, they would have stopped for a snack....
The man never said a word when I pointed to what was in the water...never a word. He looked Stunned, trying to grasp what I’d saved him from, I guess....
Joe announced he was running to the pay booth at the Park entry to tell the ranger, so that the Florida Wild Life Patrol could be called.
We guessed they were swimming for the canal that empties into the Gulf, up where they’re doing construction, maybe another 1/8 mile away. Far as we know, they got by as nothing was in the paper, but we felt good about having averted a potential disaster! What drama!!
But then, it would not bode well for tourists to be savvy to this. Even though it happens rarely, it can happen- twice now, since we began coming................”