When Eugene Janssen sent in his "Gator vs. Shark" Photo of the Day, we felt there just might be a good story behind the photo--after all, a "gator bites boat" story doesn't come along everyday.
In fact, we are pretty sure we've never heard of a shell becoming a snack in quite this way, and neither had Janssen...until it he found his bow in the jaws of a gator.
Janssen, who rows at the Greater Houston Rowing Club in Sugarland, Texas, was out in his single, about a mile from the boathouse when the alligator chomped down on his bow. It swam off right away and Janssen was both unharmed and able to paddle to shore to get out of his boat. While gators are a fact of life on his Club's waterway, this was the first boat-biting incident that he knows of.
"We have people who have been rowing here for 34 years, and they said it was the first time that something like this has happened. So nobody heard about that happening before."
"We've seen alligators from time to time, but for myself, I've been rowing quite a bit over the last eight years or so and I used to only see them maybe once every year, or once every two years. We had one big one that was there maybe six, seven years ago. They ended up taking it out."
(Ed. note: alligators deemed to be "nuisance gators" can be relocated away from populated areas by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Game Wardens; you can read the TPWD "Alligator Nuisance Control Protocol" here.)
"I remember one day I was rowing six years ago. We were in a quad and this alligator was just parked in the middle of the river; it didn't budge when we rowed by. So we used to have that big alligator downstream, which was probably about eight feet long. [Until they removed him] the Club basically told us don't go downstream [towards him] in the April-May timeframe when it's mating season and that big guy would be more aggressive and visible.
"After that I never really saw any alligators until recently. I mean, I've only seen one, probably the same alligator who bit the boat. I saw it a few years ago and basically I was rowing and I hit it with my blade--and of course you don't see it when you are rowing and going backwards.
"This year, for the last two months, I've seen [that alligator] very regularly. There's an area where I can row which is upstream from our boathouse. It's an area where there's a footpath along the shore, some hotels and a nice area with fountains and stores. So I tend to row a lot over there, and then there's a 400 yard side section of that waterway. At the very end of it, in the corner, I used to see this alligator because I turned around right there. They told me it was a female and she had a nest there, which would explain why I could still see her there even after the mating season."
"Every time I turned around there, I would just see her there in the corner most days. Sometimes, when she wasn't in the corner and was maybe a little bit down that 400-yard section, if she saw me at the end of the section close to her nest, she would just come swimming over and go back to her nest. So I've seen her swim by a few times.
"The day of the incident, I was basically going into that section and about halfway--maybe about 200 yards from her nest--I just felt a bump and heard a crunch. I thought, 'That doesn't sound right.' But I was thinking there probably might be some damage to the hull or maybe the boat could be leaking, but I really didn't realize that the alligator had bitten the boat. I thought I had just bumped into something in the water.
"Right away, I saw the alligator right next to me. Of course, that made me a bit nervous, but she was just lazily rolling over and going under the water, so she wasn't aggressive at that point. But I think because she grabbed the boat [when she bit it], she must have been dragged a little bit, because I was moving, and maybe bumped against the boat. But she wasn't really interested in me, I think.
"Afterwards, I was checking the bow compartment, opening the little hatch, and I saw some water coming in. I was just sitting there debating if I could row it back to the boathouse. But the water got deeper and deeper, so I thought, 'Well, maybe if I start backing it,' because the bow was getting deeper and deeper, so I was trying to get closer to the stern but then the water started pouring into the middle section of the boat and I said, 'Well, that's not going to work.'"
"Luckily, I was close to the shore--it is not a very wide area there--and I was able to move the boat over. The single was actually very stable with so much water in the boat! I was able to just move it to the shore and then step on the few rocks there on the side. So I didn't even have to get in the water really. I just picked up the boat, let the water drain out, and then I walked back to the boathouse with the boat on my shoulders."
Janssen said he had not really been afraid: "I was already thinking about how I'm going to get the boat back to the boathouse.
"I'd seen that alligator before, it had swum by my boat and wasn't really aggressive. At the moment it happened, when I saw it right next to me, I felt a little nervous but it didn't look aggressive then either. It wasn't interested in me or just was more interested in getting back to her nest. Because I was in that section where her nest is, maybe she saw me as a threat, going to her nest, and was just giving me a warning."
Janssen did say that the bite marks make it clear that the alligator attacked from below: "She must have been with her head completely vertical because there's a bite mark on both sides of the boat: one of the sides is more crunched up, but you can see the teeth marks on the other side as well."
Janssen's one regret, apart from not having been able to figure out a way to row home and skip his one mile boat carry, is that he will soon have the hull fixed up as good as new, erasing the evidence of his memorable encounter:
"I just took my boat this morning to a shop that can fix it, but I was thinking it would be cool if they could fix it in a way where you could still see the tooth marks, right?"
He says that the game wardens are working to catch this alligator, too, and when they do, he will get a definitive answer on how big she really is, but he guesses probably about six feet, after getting his close look.
Funny enough, Janssen's niece had recently shown his daughter a video of a man carrying around an alligator as an "emotional support animal" and his daughter had joked that perhaps the alligator Janssen would see everyday wanted to be his support animal.
After the chunk that animal took out of his boat, Janssen is pretty sure the gator is not interested in that arrangement one bit.
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