Sharks are found in the Gulf of Mexico and we have caught them off Alligator Point. Generally the sharks that come into the shallow water near shore are small and of a harmless type. Fishing for them can be fun. Far more people in Florida die by lighting strike or even falling in their bathtubs every year than by shark attack. That fin you see in the water is more likely a porpoise than a shark. To the best of our knowledge the most recent shark death in the area was in about 1989 on Panama City Beach, 100 miles away. A note, if you do fish for shark catch and release is the best policy sharks do not reproduce as prolifically as many fish and some are becoming threatened. If you want to keep a shark be sure and check the Florida fishing regulations these are always changing but keeping and killing sharks is strictly regulated. Click here for more on sharks.
Alligators are freshwater animals and you won't see one on the beach (we have no idea why its called Alligator Point). You will probably see some at Wakulla Springs or in some of the rivers or lakes. As with the shark, attacks are very rare. Rob's brother did once see one crossing the road near where the road first enters Alligator Point, about 4 miles east of the house. The gator must have been lost, this is rare. One note on alligators they are much more likely to eat a dog than a person, don't let your dog go swimming in freshwater, it's illegal to feed gators and unpleasant to loose your dog to one. An important note, Rob believes small children are more at risk than adults. This makes some sense adults are just too big to be easy prey, young kids are not.
The Florida State Department of Fish and Wildlife is advising hikers, hunters, fishermen, and golfers to take extra precautions and keep alert for alligators while in Franklin County. They advise people to wear noise-producing devices such as "little bells" on their clothing to alert, but not startle the alligators, unexpectedly. They also advise the carrying of "pepper spray" in case of an encounter with an alligator. They suggest it's also a good idea to watch for fresh signs of alligator activity and be able to recognize the difference between young alligator and adult alligator droppings. Young alligator droppings are small, contain fish bones and possibly bird feathers. Adult alligators droppings have little bells in them and smell like pepper.
When dealing with either shark or alligator we suggest you use common sense, don't attempt riding or wrestling either.
Snakes are rare near the house, and we have never seen a poisonous one at our end of the point. If you go inland a bit you will find more snakes including rattlesnakes and moccasins. We do have a reliable report of a big diamond back on the beach on Bald Point, but that is miles from our house and much closer to freshwater. The eastern diamond back is probably the largest and maybe most dangerous snake in the US, but you probably won't see one near house. You find them farther inland. Wakulla Springs and the upper stretches of the river have produced some of the largest water moccasins ever recorded, one over 6 feet in length! There are supposed to be coral snakes and maybe even a few copperheads in Florida, but Rob hasn't seen a coral snake since the 60's and Kate has never seen one, neither of us have ever seen a copperhead. None the less if you do see a snake just avoid it, please don't kill it. Snakes of all kinds are becoming depleted in Florida and anything you see near the house is almost certainly harmless so just look, give them a wide berth and live and let live. Snakes are also our best natural defense against small furry rodents.
Bears are actually the only "dangerous" animal we know of that have been seen on the beach (and they are mostly dangerous to garbage cans, picnic baskets and the like). One was spotted near the end of the Point a few years ago and there are bears in the woods nearby to the north. Last year there were reports of bears getting into trash cans but that was 4 or 5 miles from the house. According to Arlo Kane, a Florida State Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission wildlife biologist: "We have a bear at Alligator Point that comes out in the spring near the KOA campground to go swimming. Every year we get a report of him swimming off the beach. No one knows exactly why they go swimming, but they do." Seeing one at our end of the beach would be very rare. You may see an occasional coyote or "red wolf", they are about as dangerous as a large poodle.
Bugs, of course we have bugs, the only way to see the Gulf Coast without them is on TV, or from your air-conditioned car window. Take repellent, we think deet based repelants work best. Avon’s skin so soft works too, it just takes more, and more frequent applications. Bugs are really only bad in the warm months, and fortunately in the warm months sea breezes are common. The afternoon sea breeze is the best natural defense against bugs, most days you wont need repellent on the beach, but go a hundred yards or so inland and you will. Some days if you go from the house to the beach it's fine no bug and at same time if you go out the door towards the road you'll get eaten alive. On the beach the little "no-see-ums" are worse than mosquitoes, but avoidance/repellant strategy is about the same. As the breeze dies down in the evening move to the screened in porch. We have learned to manage the outdoor bug thing quite well, and are sure you will be able to also.
We have to fight an ongoing battle against indoor bugs; the house is sprayed regularly, and if you are there on the third Thursday of the month expect to see our bug man. This is a ground level concrete slab house in the shade and in this sub tropical environment keeping all the roaches out is impossible, no matter what you do an occasional one will wander in from the outside. These are usually the big palmetto bug roaches and look awful, if you see one of these it had to have come in from outside they don't live or breed indoors. Please help us with the bugs, keep the kitchen floor and open surfaces free of food and take your garbage out often. If you have a problem call our property manager and we'll schedule a bug man visit for you. This is not usually a problem; we don't often get complaints we just wanted to warn you.
Fire Ants are a real annoyance and we do sometimes find them in the yard. We try and keep them killed off, but it is a losing battle. There were no fire ants inFlorida when Rob was growing up; these are invaders from South America. The prevailing theory is that they came intoMobile aboard a ship about 80 years ago. They got to Alligator Point about 1970 and seem to be here to stay. In the 70’s the government lead an all out war on them, that has come to be known as the “Entomologist’sVietnam”. It didn’t work; the government gave up and the ants won. Fire ants are small dark red ants that live in large colonies. You will see mounds of loose soil a few inches high and a few inches across. There are usually a lot of these mounds close together, this is a colony. One ant bite doesn’t hurt much; Rob can hardly feel just one. The problem is that if you stand or sit on a bed a whole lot of them will get on you and then all bite at once, this is an unpleasant and not easily forgotten experience. Kate has never been bitten, Rob has but only when he carelessly stood or sat in one place too long. The fire ants don’t seem to go in the house, and are not on the beach. You will find them in the yard, usually in the grass. It’s been our experience that so long as you watch for them when you pause in a spot in the yard to be sure you are not standing or sitting in a colony you will not have a problem. Stepping on a nest while walking does not seem to give the ants time to attack. We have heard of dogs digging into their nests and getting bitten pretty thoroughly, but it has never happened to our dogs. Fire ants are ubiquitous in much of the south now and people have learned to live with them, just watch out and you should be fine.
Now on to nicer animals........
Turtles, there are five species of sea turtles found in the Gulf of Mexico, and it is possible for any one of them to be seen at Alligator Point. These include the leatherback, hawksbill, green, loggerhead, and Kemp's Ridley. Sea Turtles were once common in the Gulf and thick on the beaches, but all five species are now considered endangered. Florida once had a thriving turtle fishery providing everything from turtle soup to turtle shells for ornamental use. Your great grandmother may well have had a mirror or hair brush with a turtle shell handle. The Kemp's Ridley is the most threatened, at one time over a million nested every year on beaches mostly in Mexico, in 1947 40,000 were photographed nesting on a single beach in Northern Mexico, by 1985 it is estimated that no more than 200 mating pairs existed in the world. The decline is a result of several factors including: over fishing, taking of eggs, development of nesting beaches, and the killing of turtles in nets. The turtles are all now protected in the US, and are gaining more protection in other countries. Numbers are slowly increasing, but the lack of suitable nesting habitat is a big problem. This is where our renters can help, read on.
The leatherback is the largest of the sea turtles, growing to over 10 feet in length and weighing up to 1300 pounds. They mostly nest on the Northern coast of South America and in the Caribbean, a few have been found to nest on the Florida Gulf coast. The hawksbill is a smaller turtle, getting no larger than about 150 pounds. The hawksbill produced the most valued shell and in years gone by was used in products such as eyeglasses, and tabletops. The hawksbill nests throughout the Gulf of Mexico, but is more commonly found in Southern Florida. The green turtle is a medium sized turtle weighing up to 500 pounds. It is not green, but it's fat is (when Rob was a kid turtle meat was sold in some fish markets). The green turtle tends to nest further south, in the Caribbean, but nestings on the Gulf coast have been reported. The loggerhead is the turtle most likely to be found nesting on Alligator Point. Loggerheads can reach lengths over 6 feet and weigh over 500 pounds. Loggerheads feed on crabs, jellyfish, and mollusks.
Loggerheads nest at night and lay between 80 and 125 eggs, incubation takes 45 to 60 days. The young hatch at night, usually around 11 or 12 pm, when the sand begins to cool down. Unlike some turtles they do not all nest at once, and the eggs do not all hatch at once, on Alligator Point they may nest any time between May and September and can hatch as late as the end of October. In 2001 there were 18 known loggerhead nests on Alligator Point, 11 of which resulted in successful hatchings. One of the nests was on our property, right in front of the gazebo, in May 2002 we had a turtle nest on the beach about 200 feet to the east of the gazebo. Thanks in large part to the cooperation of our renters both of these nests successfully hatched over 100 turtles each. You can help contribute to successful turtle nesting. You can do this by keeping the lights off, not building fires, and being careful of the nests. Turtles are attracted to and confused by lights. For nesting mothers this can cause them to have difficulty locating a suitable nesting spot. For hatchlings it is more critical. If there are light visible to young turtles when they hatch the turtles will be drawn to the light and try to go in land rather than towards the water. They will dehydrate and die. If you leave the lights off this won't happen. In 2001 and 2002 we had good renters and when the eggs hatched they all made it to the water. Another problem is predation, and more predation is done by domestic pets, usually dogs than by wild animals. If you have a dog you must keep it away from any turtle nests. The turtle lady does put down a wire mesh on top of the eggs to make it harder for a dog to dig them up, this will slow but not stop a determined dog. The other thing that can cause problems for hatchlings are tire tracks on the beach. If people drive on the beach it leaves ruts parallel to the water. The turtles find these ruts and follow them, not into the water. It is illegal to drive on the beach in Franklin County, if you see anyone driving on the beach call the police.
Volunteers walk the beach every morning looking for turtle nests. When they find them the nests are marked and a wire mesh placed on the ground to help prevent the nest from being dug up. This also helps dog owners keep their pets away from the nests. Don't count on every nest being found and marked, keep the lights off even if there is not one marked on the beach nearby, there could still be one. Franklin County does have an ordnance outlawing lights on the beach or that can be seen from the beach, the fine is $500. This is another reason to keep your lights down, but we hope you do it to protect the turtles. Vicki is the lead turtle lady on Alligator Point, if you are up early you will see her patroling the beach, don't hesitate to go talk to her, she is very friendly and very informative.
On our last trip down there were some kids driving a golf cart looking thing up and down the beach. This is highly illegal and soon the local police and Florida Marine Patrol folks were all over them. It was probably an honest mistake, if they had known it was illegal they probably would not have done it in the open that way. Don't drive or ride anything but your own two feet on the beach.
Porpoises, are one of our favorite animals, and you will most likely see them feeding along the beach. In the cooler months they come in quite close, sometimes almost out of the water onto the beach. In warmer months they stay a little farther out, but seeing them from the beach is quite common the year around. There is a lot of confusion over the differences between porpoises and dolphins. There are two pretty unrelated animals called dolphins, one is the bottle-nosed dolphin which is a mammal closely related to the porpoise. The other is a fish, which is not at all closely related to either the porpoise or the bottle nosed dolphin. The fish is a blue water fish that can be caught offshore in the Gulf near Alligator Point. It is found in warmer waters worldwide, in Hawaii its call Mahi Mahi, on the west coast of Mexico it’s called a Dorado. There seems to be a movement in the fish selling business to get away from the name dolphin, because many people don't understand the difference. Even in Florida now you will find “Mahi Mahi” on menus.
The porpoise and the bottle-nosed dolphin are not the same thing, but they are close. The porpoise is generally smaller and doesn't have a bottle-nose. Porpoises are playful and usually gray or black with a slightly lighter underside. It can live to the age of 30, occasionally attaining a length of 12', although most are in the 6'-8' range. There is no danger in swimming with porpoises, but they can hurt fishing. Historically sailors believed porpoises near their boats were good luck, they were probably right.
This May we saw a remarkable event. In a boat about half a mile west of the tip of Alligator Point we spotted a lot of porpoises. We stopped the boat in the middle of a group of about 30, they were all around the boat and all within a couple of hundred feet. There was a real fracas going on; porpoises trashing everywhere. The porpoises were in clusters of 3 or 4 and seemed to be struggling and tussling. There was a lot of tail slapping. They paid no attention to the boat. On closer observation it became apparent that each group consisted of one female and 2 or 3 males; and they were mating. The females' bellies were red and looked like they were rubbed raw. When the males turned over it was pretty obvious what was going on; porpoises are mammals and these males obviously shared some anatomical features with human males. Their anatomy is different, but in this respect not too different; it was immediately obvious what was going on! They seemed to have no modesty. It was a porpoise orgy, that seems to be the only way to describe it. It was the first time we had seen anything like it; we think of the porpoises a bit differently now.
Manatee, the Florida or West Indian Manatee is a wonderful animal. It’s huge, up to 12 feet long and 2 tons! The manatee is absolutely harmless and relatively unafraid of people. Unfortunately they are quite endangered; today the single biggest treat to their existence is injury by boat propellers. There are only about 2000 manatees left and in 1990, 218 (12% of the total population) were known to have been killed by boats, many more likely died without being found. This is tragic and not something easily fixed. In winter manatees collect in the warmer Florida springs, like Crystal River and can be protected there. Unfortunately in summer they disperse all over the state and are much harder to protect. We have seen manatees in the Ochlockonee River that were the same color as the river and almost impossible to see when standing still and looking right at them. From a speeding boat it would be impossible to see them. They do get some protection in places like the Wakulla River where they are more common, but there is no way to protect them in most waterways. If you see a manatee look at it’s back, you will see numerous scars from propeller accidents. We have never seen a manatee more than a few days old without extensive scaring.
The manatee is mostly a freshwater animal, we have never heard of anyone seeing one on the Gulf side of Alligator Point, but they have been seen in Alligator Harbor and in the marina. Your best chance of seeing one is in the Wakulla River. Manatees are large mammals closely related to other varieties of manatee found in the Amazon and in West Africa, and to the dugong found in the Indian Ocean, but not closely related to other marine mammals like seals or whales. The closest living relative other than other manatees and the dugong is the elephant. The manatee is supposed to the animal that is responsible for mermaid legends, but we are skeptical. Looking at a manatee it is hard to imagine any but the most love sick and near sighted sailor mistaking one for half woman.
This is an aerial view of the last 3 miles or so of Alligator Point showing the location of Kate's Dream. For reference, up is east, north is to the left. The spit of land you see is the end, the last 3 miles or so of Alligator Point, to the north is Alligator Harbor, to the south is the Gulf of Mexico. To the north of Alligator Harbor is the mainland. On the north side of Alligator Point you can see the Marina, it looks a bit like a bird's beak, it is the most notable feature on the north side of the point. You can see the Alligator Point road beginning east of the marina and going down the center of the point, and ending just past a bulge on the south side of the point. Kate's Dream is on the beach just where the bulge begins, west of the marina. A substantial gate at the south end of the bulge closes the road; you can see the road going a bit farther east than is actually accessible. The gate is where the Nature Conservancy land begins. Just for scale Alligator Point varies from 300 to 1000 feet wide. There is only the one road, no side roads, at the narrow points there are only houses on the Gulf at the wider points there are houses on both the Gulf and the Bay, and all houses are waterfront. The road ends just about 300 yards past Kate's Dream and the last 2 miles or so of the point are Nature Conservancy land with no legal access. Off the end of the point extensive tidal flats can be seen. East is up.
We are not alone. It is a little known fact that there is another Alligator Point,one in Texas. According to the "Handbook of Texas Online" Alligator Point, Texas is a narrow promontory at the western end of the small island formed by the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway across from Galveston Island. It is eighteen miles southeast of Angleton in extreme east central Brazoria County. The point consists of grass-covered sand dunes. It is even less well know (in the US anyway) that there is an Alligator Point in Queensland Austrailia, it located across from Karumba, where the Norman River enters the Gulf of Carpenteria. There is a Dead Alligator Point in Louisiana and another Alligator Point in the Bahamas. It also seems there is an Alligator Point on the Dumoine River near Ottawa, Canada. We know there are no Alligators in Austrailia, although their crocs are a related breed, but we doubt Ottawa has ever seen anything like an Alligator.
One day Governor Bush was touring near Alligator Point when he spotted a man wearing a University of Florida Gators shirt waste deep in the Ochlockonee River. Then he noticed a 14-foot alligator mouth wide open swimming vigorously towards the man when suddenly a high-speed boat containing 2 men with FSU Seminoles shirts came into view. The men pulled a large harpoon out and at the last minute thrust it into the alligator, and pulled the alligator out of the water. The Governor immediately called the men in the speed boat over and told them how proud he was of what they had done, particularly given the bitter rivalry between the Seminoles and the Gators. As the Governor drove away one of the FSU men looked at the other and said, “Who was that?”. The harpoonist replied “No idea but he doesn’t seem to know much about alligator hunting, how’s the bait holding up?”.
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