Caution: Killer Crocodiles!

U.S. president Barack Obama, recently visited Darwin in Australia‘s Top End and media headlines were made when the Northern Territory’s Chief Minister gave the President “crocodile insurance” for the duration of his stay! It may have been something of a publicity stunt, but the fact remains that crocodiles do present a clear and present danger for those of us who spend time on the water fishing and boating in this part of the world…

Saltwater crocodiles are amazing apex predators.

Saltwater crocodiles are a fact of life when fishing in most parts of Australia’s tropical north. Despite their misleading name, these often large and potentially very dangerous reptiles are certainly not confined to our tidal saltwater environments. In fact, they frequently find their way into completely fresh water, and will move inland, even along intermittent water courses, for considerable distances: all the way to the base of waterfalls and escarpments. There’s an old saying in Australia’s Northern Territory that crocs can be found anywhere that barramundi also occur, and it is one well worth remembering!

Since their protection by law in 1971 (in the Northern Territory — different dates applied elsewhere), saltwater crocodile numbers have definitely increased across the Top End. Even more importantly, apart from a few really big old-timers, all of the crocs living in North Queensland, the Territory and northern West Australia today have grown up with little to fear from man. This makes them especially bold and therefore dangerous, and a handful of attacks on humans occur every year, some of them fatal.

There are lots of very big crocs living in Australia’s north. The biggest can top 6 metres (20 feet) in length!

Every now and again (but especially on the heels of another fatal attack on a human) a call goes out to “cull” growing crocodile numbers by introducing a hunting season or allowing well-heeled big game shooters to take selected trophy crocs in return for a hefty payment. So far, governments of all persuasions have resisted these often passionate demands, while at the same time empowering The Department of Natural Resources or other relevant state/territory authorities to pursue a rigorous management plan that includes trapping and relocating crocs from waterways close to urban areas and also selectively removing troublesome specimens from more remote locations.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the notion of “culling” crocodiles, although I certainly support the great job that the DNR does in the NT when it comes to monitoring and controlling the abundance of these dangerous animals in busier waterways.

I believe that the presence of large numbers of peak predators like saltwater crocodiles is a fantastic indicator of the overall health of an ecosystem. At a more philosophical and perhaps even existential level, I reckon it’s both humbling and sobering (and therefore good for us) to accept that we are not necessarily perched at the very top of the food chain. Understanding that there are creatures out there that can and will kill and eat us if we make a serious mistake has a way of sharply focusing the mind! Perhaps it’s nature’s way of cutting us down to size by reminding us of our mortality and place in the overall scheme of things. Whatever the case, and regardless of whether we’re talking about grizzly bears, lions, great white sharks or saltwater crocodiles, I sincerely believe that we will have lost something extremely important from the rich web of life on this planet if we ever lose the super predators… Here endeth the sermon!

Love them or hate them, all anglers who fish in our tropical waters must learn to live with crocodiles. The vast majority of attacks on humans occur as a direct result of ignoring some basic and well-understood rules. I won’t repeat those guidelines here for the umpteenth time. Instead, if you want to refresh yourself about being croc-wise, go to the Northern Territory government’s excellent Crocwise site by clicking here.

Crocs can move very quickly when they want to!

In closing, I’d like to share with you the links to a couple of very interesting YouTube clips my wife Jo has put together based on some of our more recent crocodile encounters while fishing in Northern Territory waters. The first (“Croc Frenzy“) involved an amazing feeding aggregation of very large saltwater croc‘s we encountered around the carcass of a cow one of them had killed and dragged into the waters of  Corroboree Billabong. (A warning, the wild sound on this one contains some coarse language!) The second clip (“The Fish Thief“) was also shot at Corroboree Billabong, and involved an encounter with a very cheeky four metre (13 foot +) croc’ that moved in and began taking hooked Indo-Pacific tarpon (ox-eye herring) from my fly line. (Simply click on the highlighted names of each clip titles in the previous sentence to watch them right here.) In both instances, we quickly moved on when things started getting seriously dangerous. Indeed, we probably hung in a tad longer than was prudent in both cases in our eagerness to take stills and video footage. We don’t recommend that you do the same… As they say: “Don’t try this at home, folks!”

NB: The bulk of this blog  is drawn from a Fact Box accompanying my “Territory Tough” feature in the Summer 2011/12 edition of NAFA Magazine. Be sure to grab a copy to read more!

A freeze-frame from Jo’s great YouTube clip “Fish Thief”.