An environmental scientist had his jaw broken during an alligator attack while snorkeling in the Silver River Tuesday but was otherwise recovering from the attack Wednesday.
Peter Butt was in fair condition Wednesday and is expected to make a full recovery from a bite by the 11 1/2-foot reptile, said Wes Skiles, owner of Karst Environmental Services, an Alachua County firm that Butt and Skiles started in 1987.
“He is expected to make a full recovery,” Skiles said. “It was a completely out-of-nowhere attack. It was just bam.”
The attack happened about 5:15 p.m. Tuesday as Butt, 54, was checking water samples when the alligator attacked, biting him in the neck.
Butt was flown by helicopter to Shands Hospital at the University of Florida. A trapper worked with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to locate the alligator Tuesday night, after which the 500-pound reptile was killed.
In addition to the broken jaw, Butt had cuts and bruises from the bite, according to the Shands statement.
Butt was working on the Silver River with a colleague, Tom Morris, as part of Karst’s ongoing work concerning water quality and the aquifer.
Morris had checked water samples in that area just a short time before Butt did. Morris called for help when the gator attacked.
There was speculation Wednesday as to the factors that might have contributed to Butt’s encounter with the alligator. But those familiar with gators suspect bad luck was the primary factor.
The attack, which occurred outside the Silver Springs attraction, had no correlation with alligator mating season, which starts in mid-April and lasts until around mid-July, according to Lindsey Hord, an alligator biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and a coordinator for the agency’s statewide Nuisance Alligator Program. Likewise, he said there is no factual basis for the notion that alligators display aggression because of territoriality.
Joy Hill, a spokeswoman for the FWC, said Butt is an experienced diver and had been coming to the same site for a few months.
“You can be careful and experienced and still get [bit],” she said. “Wild animals are unpredictable.”
Swimming at dusk, at night and early in the morning can put people at risk because those are alligator feeding times. However, Butt was snorkeling at around 5 p.m., so Hill said she thinks it was just bad luck in this case.
FWC’s policy is to remove any unprovoked alligators that have endangered a human’s life, Hill said. Those alligators are dubbed “nuisance” after they have bitten someone.
FWC’s Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program issues a permit to remove a nuisance alligator after evaluating the report of the attack.
“We value human life over the alligators,” Hill said. “And there are no shortages of the alligators.”
There are about 1.3 million alligators in Florida, according to the FWC website. Of the 517 recorded alligator bites that have occurred since 1948, just 22 were deadly.
The total number includes unprovoked and provoked bites; the latter includes bites that happened while alligators were being handled or intentionally harassed. The last fatal bite was recorded in 2007.
“It’s very unlikely to get bitten by the alligator at any time,” said Hord, the alligator biologist. “Alligators are not something people should have an irrational fear of.”
After the alligator attacked Butt, it stayed in the same place in the Silver River until Jerry Ziegler and Al Roberts, gator trappers for the FWC, arrived a couple of hours later.
By not leaving, the 11 1/2-foot-long reptile showed no fear of humans, which suggested that the alligator was accustomed to being around people, Hill said.
Most of the time, alligators stay in the same place after an attack, Hord said. He said alligators become more habitual over time when exposed to people who don’t threaten them. Feeding the alligators speeds up the habitual behavior and is illegal.
Ziegler, a licensed nuisance alligator trapper, said he and his partners, Roberts and Will Parker, sold the meat and hide to B&W Meats, a processing facility in Hawthorne, soon after they trapped and killed the alligator.
Ziegler, who has been catching alligators since August 2009, said this trapping wasn’t much different from others he has done. The trappers set up bait for the alligator and caught the animal pretty quickly.
“We go out after gators all the time,” he said. “It’s what we do.”