Paddling with Predators

Paddlers should not fear alligators, but should take certain steps to stay safe.

Paddlers should not fear alligators, but should take certain steps to stay safe.

by Kealy McNeal

If your paddling adventures take you to the swamps of Southwest Florida, you will be in alligator habitat. Please do not let the presence of these prehistoric reptiles discourage you. As cliche as it sounds, it’s true that they are more afraid of you than you are of them. However, you should always use caution when paddling where alligators could be present.

In the wild, alligators mostly keep to themselves and leave paddlers alone. It is uncommon for alligators to swim up to paddling vessels. If one does approach you, it is most likely looking for a meal – perhaps because it has been fed by humans in the past. For your own safety and the safety of other paddlers, never feed an alligator. We encourage you to follow best paddling practices by quietly observing wildlife from a safe distance.

Alligators are very territorial animals, especially during the spring mating season. Female alligators closely guard their babies for the first few months, and will exhibit extremely aggressive behavior when protecting their young. Steer clear of any baby alligators, because mom is probably watching nearby.

If you are approached by an alligator, make a loud noise to scare it away. You can hit your paddle against the side of your vessel, blow the whistle on your PFD, or even consider keeping an air horn on board. Some paddlers carry a rubber mallet with them to thump the bottom of their kayak when entering alligator habitat. We also recommend keeping your hands, feet and pets inside your vessel while paddling in these areas.

Ocean Tribe Outfitters is a branch of Sanibel Sea School that helps the local paddling community better explore, enjoy, and understand the ocean. Visit oceantribeoutfitters.org or follow us on Facebook to learn more.