Steve's Blog: Gators frighten and sadden this reporter - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Steve's Blog: Gators frighten and sadden this reporter

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GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -

By Steve Phillips – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Recent assignments have me thinking about alligator encounters.

I've had close-up experiences with a trio of gators over the past couple of weeks.

As many of you know, I'm an avid kayaker. There are few things I enjoy more than gliding through the waters of Davis Bayou, the Pascagoula River, or a relaxing paddle out to nearby Deer Island.

Even though I've been kayaking for some eight years or so, I can probably count on one hand the number of alligators I've seen from my kayak.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not naive enough to think the gators haven't been around (I'm quite sure I've gone over the top of them) it's just that I haven't seen them that often.

And that's part of what makes this first story so memorable.

I was shooting a story about Turkey Creek in Gulfport. The story was for a special report that focused both on Turkey Creek the historic, African-American community and Turkey Creek, the hidden gem of a waterway that meanders through the city of Gulfport.

Thanks to my kayak trip down Turkey Creek the waterway, I can confirm the stories of residents who've talked about some "big gators" making their home along the creek.

I was hoping to kayak the creek with Derrick Evans, the history teacher turned community activist who I interviewed for my report. However, Derrick had to catch a plane to D.C. that late afternoon; so I was left to kayak the creek on my own.

First, left me tell you that Turkey Creek is one of the most scenic waterways I've ever had the pleasure to paddle. It is quite comparable to the natural beauty of the Pascagoula River, one of my favorite kayak spots.

I put in at Gulfport Lake, then paddled the slow moving waterway southward, past Airport Road. It was on my relaxing return trip to the lake that I apparently startled Mr. Gator.

I had just finished shooting some video (so my camera wasn't running) and was simply enjoying paddling back toward the lake. Suddenly, I heard a rustling in the marsh grass along the back to my left. A split second later, a very large alligator came charging out of the swampy shoreline. And I do mean charging. Apparently, I frightened the gator even more than he scared me to death.

The ten-foot-plus animal dove head first into the waters directly in front of my kayak.

Once I assured myself that my heart was in fact still beating, I proceeded to pick up the pace of my paddling. It increased exponentially, in fact.  If it's possible for a kayak to glide atop the water, I think my 13 and a half footer was airborne at that instance.

When I'd paddled a sufficient distance away from the site of the startling encounter, I paused to catch my breath, collect my thoughts and replay that brush with Mr. Gator. It is forever embedded in my mind; that split second when I made eye contact with a frightened alligator who could have overturned my kayak if he wanted to.

Thankfully, after his dive into the water, he didn't surface. Again, I think I may have scared him as well.

Gator encounters number two and three happened a few days later along the banks of Brickyard Bayou.

Gator trapper, Sam Searcy, had responded to a complaint call about a nuisance gator. By the time I arrived, he and his trapper team already had one 10 foot gator tied to a dock post and another 13 footer with a lasso around his snout.

Needless to say, this late morning excitement had also attracted a group of curious, wide eyed neighbors with anxious grins and cell phone cameras at the ready.

Sam and his team prepared to pull "the big one" to the shore, but the big fella wasn't too keen on the idea. Once they tightened the line and pulled, Mr. Gator thrashed about in the water, rolling and splashing and causing the trapper team to collect its breath and bear down a little harder on the lasso rope.

Finally, several burly men were able to overcome the "nuisance gator." He was wrestled ashore, his giant snout quickly secured shut with good old duct tape.

You see, while gators can exert enormous pressure snapping shut those large jaws, they have little muscle power to open their mouth if someone is holding it shut.

The trapper crew used a fork lift to hoist the 800 pound beast from the water's edge. He was then dragged to a waiting ten foot trailer, which wasn't long enough to hold his enormous tail.

Tape measure applied; the big guy registered 12 feet, 9 inches. Trapper Searcy estimates he weighed a good 800 pounds and was 65 to 70 years old.

End of story, almost.

I'd love to tell you that the trappers re-located the big gators and they're adjusting to and enjoying their new home in the secluded swamp somewhere. Truth is, reality is sometimes a harsh awakening.

The big gators would be killed. The crime for their death sentence?  They frightened the folks living along Brickyard Bayou.

Now don't get me wrong, it's not necessarily the neighbors fault the gators met their demise. After all, I would rather be doing this story than doing a story about the toddler who got too close to the water's edge; too close to a giant gator that had grown a little too friendly with people (folks feeding this gator perhaps?)

Apparently, the state's policy allows the trapper to kill the gator in such instances, collecting money for the hide and meat.

My gator trapping story found its way to CNN and was broadcast to a national audience. I received some subsequent emails; several folks complaining about the unnecessary killings of these impressive giants.

I share the concern. The gators were simply doing what gators do.

Of the two stories, I prefer my own frightening encounter with the large gator on Turkey Creek, to the Brickyard Bayou gator that was hog tied, mouth taped and loaded onto a trailer, awaiting its unpleasant fate.

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