Airboat tour captain gives gator a hand
Here’s a weird and wacky news story with a personal connection. Recently, an Everglades airboat tour captain had his hand bitten off by an alligator, which he was allegedly feeding. Passengers on the boat say Wallace “Wally” Weatherholt of Captain Doug’s Everglades Tours, was splashing the water and feeding fish to the toothy beast when it clamped on to his hand and summarily tore the appendage off. Trappers caught and shot the alligator and managed to extract the surprisingly undamaged hand from its stomach. However, surgeons were unable to reattach it. Adding insult to injury, Weatherholt could be charged with illegally feeding wildlife, which is punishable with a 60-day jail term and/or a $500 fine.
This story hit close to home for me because I was in the Everglades with my spouse a few years ago and we went on an airboat tour with that very company. At one point, the captain stopped the boat in a lagoon, pulled some marshmallows from under his seat and started to throw them into the water to get an alligator to approach. One started to swim over almost immediately. The captain told me to crouch right at the gunnel so I could get the best photos. Being a trusting sort, I did as he suggested. He then crept up behind me, suddenly reached down, grabbed the gator by the snout and pulled its head practically into my lap, laughing like a madman the whole time. I jumped back, nearly toppling into the water on the far side of the boat as he released the gator back into the water. “Har, har, har, what’s the matter? You scared of a little gator?” he cackled.
Now, I appreciate jackass stunts as much as the next guy, but that one seemed seriously wreckless. Afterwards, we discovered that baiting was a common tactic among the captains on all the different companies’ tours. They do it to get the gators to put on a more exciting show, which they hope translates into a better tip. While I can’t remember our captain’s name, it really wouldn’t surprise me if it was Wally. And as bad as I feel for the guy, his bonehead behaviour certainly reinforces the fact that it’s called wildlife for a reason—you have to respect it or it will, quite literally, come back to bite you.
Click here for the local paper’s story.
And here’s a blurry photo of a gator swimming toward a marshmallow, from my trip in 2009.