IOP beachgoers surprised by wayward gator

An alligator prowls ashore on Isle of Palms on Monday evening.

ISLE OF PALMS — For awhile, this popular beach had a gator on the loose — again.

Gabriel Decaran-Voigt was one of the first to notice, when he walked out on the sand near 42nd Avenue on Monday evening. The Miami resident, on his way home from a paddleboarding competition in North Carolina, had stopped in to see a friend. He thought maybe he’d board out in the surf a bit.

He looked out to sea and couldn’t believe what he saw.

“It was very large, 6 or 7 feet, and looked well fed. It was pretty darned scary and it was swimming into shore,” Decaran-Voigt said. “We were going to paddle. We’re not.”

As a crowd gathered, Isle of Palms police officers contacted the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, which dispatched a contracted removal agent to deal with the toothy reptile. But it backed away into the surf and disappeared. Tuesday about noon it turned up again in a tidal pool nearby and was removed, said Police Chief Thomas Buckhannon.

“It was surreal,” Decaran-Voigt said. Sure, he’s seen alligators around Miami but never on Miami Beach, where he sunbathes and tans, he said.

But in the Lowcountry alligators in the surf aren’t that strange a sight. They turn up on the beaches a few times each year, although more often later in the summer.

The animals haunt the sounds behind the islands and freshwater on the islands. They apparently get caught in strong outgoing currents and washed out the inlets. This time of year, too, they’re getting bullied. As waters warm, males are looking to mate, and bigger males will push out the younger males, said First Sgt. Angus MacBride of DNR.

The stray gators can live a few days in salt water, but they struggle and weaken in the powerful push and pull of the ocean. It doesn’t end well for them. State law requires that removed alligators be euthanized.

The sighting gave a start to a few dozens beachgoers on Monday and Tuesday along the east end of Isle of Palms.

Liz Sharp of Wando is no stranger to alligators: She wrestled a little one out of the Huger Post Office a few years back by feeding it a broom then dragging it out by the handle. But “never in my life have I seen an alligator on the beach, and I lived on Isle of Palms more than 20 years,” she said.

She had gone out to the beach Monday to body surf and found herself among about a 30 very interested onlookers. And no, she didn’t go into the surf, even after the gator backed away.

“It was kind of a shocker to see it flailing around in the surf,” she said. “I was thinking I could have been the only food in the water.”

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