Alligator surprises visitors to South Florida beach

Alligators are rarely seen in saltwater environments.

HILLSBORO BEACH, Fla. — Visitors to a private beach in South Florida got more than a lovely view of the ocean on Monday.

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Beachgoers were surprised to see a 6-foot alligator swimming in the surf off Hillsboro Beach, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

“We thought it was seaweed, and the closer we got, we could tell it was moving,” Rich Loney told the newspaper. “I grew up in Ohio, so I didn’t know what it was -- alligator, crocodile?”

As Loney and a friend approached the shoreline of the private access beach, they were waved off by the Hillsboro Beach Police Department.

Police issued an alert to residents Monday afternoon and notified the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, WSVN-TV reported.

Wildlife officials arrived early Monday afternoon and wrangled the gator, tying it up before releasing the reptile in the Everglades, according to WTVJ.

According to the FWC website, American alligators prefer freshwater lakes, slow-moving rivers and wetlands. However, they also can be found in brackish water, but rarely in salt water.

So, how did this alligator get to the beach? A canal from the Everglades Wildlife Management Area to the west leads to the Boca Raton Inlet, not far from Hillsboro Beach, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

Monday’s gator sighting happened a month after a crocodile was observed swimming under a pier several miles south in Pompano Beach.

American crocodiles are more likely to be found in saltwater habitats. The reptiles live in coastal areas in brackish or saltwater areas and can be found in ponds, coves and creeks in mangrove swamps.

No matter what kind of reptile residents might discover, officials stress caution.

“Be aware,” Zoo Miami’s Ron Magill told WTVJ. “If you see a gator in the ocean, understand it took a wrong turn somewhere, and it doesn’t mean to be out in the ocean.”

Be cautious, but do not panic, Magill said.

Magill advises not to panic in such a situation.

“Don’t think this alligator is going to come after you for food,” Magill told the television station. “He’s probably trying to figure out how to get back to fresh water.”