Croc Attack [56]

By David Winkworth

Heard on the news today that a young girl was attacked by a croc at Margaret Bay on the north Qld coast. She was in shallow water with some friends when the 2.5 metre croc attacked underwater and bit her on the arm. The children’s screams alerted the girl’s father (I think). He rushed from the campsite to them and gouged the croc’s eyes, forcing it to let go. Apparently the croc stayed around for hours afterwards and was not to be deterred from watching the group.

There are some interesting similarities between this attack and Arunas’ encounter in ’99 with Mike Snoad and I on Macarthur Island.

The island is quite close to Margaret Bay, being only about 50 kms away. Margaret Bay is used by prawn trawlers and cray boats as a shelter from the strong trade winds. Light planes land on the beach and collect the live crays from the boats there about once a week.

Both attacks happened underwater but in calm shallow water. In Arunas’ case, the croc zeroed in on him from a small patch of reef. Arunas saw the croc approach underwater but it was too quick for him to do anything about it.

The rescuer in this recent attack said that if the girl lost her footing she would’ve been killed. I think we all thought the same in ’99. If Arunas had lost his footing…..Hmm.

Both attacks indicate a high level of aggression on the part of the crocodiles. After each attack, the crocs stayed around to see if another feed was available. They are not easily deterred it seems!

It’s interesting to note the different Qld government responses to the two attacks. After this latest attack, it was reported that hunters will be dispatched to find and kill the crocodile. In our case it was quite different. Firstly, when the navy guys came in to the island just on dusk as Mike and I were thinking about preparing tea, the croc surfaced off the sand point of the little bay. All you could hear was the sound of sub-machine guns being cocked as they prepared for some target practice. Mike and I forcefully asked them not to shoot it…and they didn’t. Then, days later on Thursday Island, I was interviewed over the phone by the Qld government officer who investigated all croc attacks in the state at that time. He enquired as to our feelings re the offending crocodile etc. I told him that we wanted the croc left alone and asked why he wanted to know. He said that was also the government’s “official” position and that if we were going to go public with a call to arms to kill the croc, the Premier would attack us in the media.

In this most recent encounter, the man caused the croc to release it’s grip by gouging it’s eyes. In our case, I think Arunas was trying to find the croc’s eyes but they were too far back for him to reach. His hand ended up on the croc’s teeth. It then let him go when I grabbed it around the middle.

All this seems to indicate that fighting back against them is a sound move and something that should be remembered.

On our Rolling Boil Expedition last year, we again passed through Margaret Bay, talking to some fishermen on one of the cray boats. “Watch out for crocs” they said, “a guy was attacked near here in a kayak a few years ago.” “Is that right?” we said.

We visited Macarthur Island again too. Arunas, by the way, has been honoured by Qld National Parks – they have placed crocodile warning signs on every island in north Qld. As we came up to the island we thought we’d do something different this time to outwit any resident crocs…we approached from the southwest!

It didn’t help. As we paddled in to the little bay on the north west side of the island, I took a photo of Arunas ahead of me. I put the camera away and turned slightly to see a large croc tail submerging right behind my kayak. We stayed there only for a cup of tea and it was a slightly nervous time getting in and out of the boats on that beach.

I don’t know if was the same croc (do crocs have long memories?) but I now think it’s probably asking for trouble for sea kayakers to visit Macarthur Island. You have been warned.