#39 See Ya Later, Alligator

Tuesday was a dearly beautiful day on the waters off Northern Florida, and I took advantage of a third opportunity to venture out on a biopsy cruise with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. (Read about biopsy cruises in this blog.)

Near noontime one of the survey planes radioed in to us with a sighting of an adult right whale who had never been biopsied in its 21 years of life, so we steered northeast toward where the whale was seen by the plane. About an hour and a half later we were pulling up to the spot of the sighting, about 20 miles off Brunswick, Georgia, and we slowed to survey the area to try to relocate the whale. I was in the lookout tower at this point, and I scanned the horizon for whitewater or a spout, tell-tale signs that we'd found our target whale. For miles and miles in every direction there was nothing but deep green water and pale blue sky.

Photo Credit: Kelly Slivka.

Suddenly I felt the biopsy boat shudder to a crawl and I peered ahead of us. Something strange was floating in the water 50 feet from the bow. It was brownish in color and roughly textured, and I initially though it to be the trunk of a palm tree. One of us shouted that maybe it was an old tire, and as we got closer, Clay, who was steering the boat, offhandedly commented that it looked like a dead alligator.

Well, he was more right than any of us would have ever imagined. As we pulled up alongside the mysterious object its nature became clear to us, and we suffered initially from absolute disbelief: here, in wide open waters where we expected to see whales, swam a large, very-much-alive alligator! It's hard to say if it just didn't read its map right or if it was exploring new horizons, but it was certainly one of the more bizarre things I've ever seen out in the ocean.

View Alligator Sighting in a larger map
Map displays the approximate location of our sighting of the sea-worthy alligator, 20 miles off shore from Brunswick, GA.


(Check out this previous blog of a great white shark sighting!)



  1. Wow, how strange and exciting! Do you know if alligators have ever been found that far out to sea before?

  2. How big was it?!?!

    Did it look energetic or was it dying...

  3. Holyyyyy.... That's incredible. Has anyone else in the area ever seen this? Did you get video?
    Can it be rescued???

  4. Hi Liza!

    We were curious of the same thing, so we did a little research. Clay, who works with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, talked to one of the resident herpetologists there. The herpetologist a) determined the alligator to be an American Alligator and b) had never heard of an American Alligator being seen that far out at sea. My teammate Karen searched the available records from our field house and found one recorded incidence of an American Alligator being seen 56 km (about 35 miles) from shore in the Gulf of Mexico. This record stated no other known occurrence, so ours on Tuesday was a very rare sight indeed!

    Thanks for the question!


    (Source: Elsey, R. M., 2005. Unusual Offshore Occurrence of an American Alligator. South. Nat. 4(3), 533-536.)

  5. To delve into a couple of those other questions that were posted yesterday:

    Unfortunately, I'm not enough of an alligator expert to know what a healthy, energetic alligator looks and behaves like. It did appear to be swimming and moving well in general, though, and I didn't see any obvious physical problems.

    In regards to size, it seemed fairly large, and I would estimate its size from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail to be 8-10 feet or so.

    Concerning rescue plans, we haven't arranged any efforts. We don't know that the alligator needs to be rescued; in fact, the chances are so slim of us happening to see an alligator in the expansive ocean that I would personally guess these alligator forays into the deep probably happen more than we think.

    I hope this answered some of your questions!


  6. Kelly,

    That's amazing. You ought to submit your observation for publication in the journal Herpetological Review - although there is a record for a further distance from land, in my opinion the Atlantic is quite different from the Gulf of Mexico and this is a significant observation anyway. The section editor for crocoilian Natural History Notes is Jackson Shedd (jackson.shedd@gmail.com).


    -Andrew Durso (amdurso@gmail.com)