A 9-foot-long alligator emerged from the surf off Hilton Head Island's Coligny Beach on Tuesday afternoon, shocking and delighting hundreds of beachgoers who stuck around to see the animal captured by local wranglers.
The gator was spotted by swimmers and lifeguards at about 1:15 p.m., forcing hundreds out of the water, said Billy Karijanian, director of operations for Critter Management Inc., the Hilton Head Island firm who trapped the animal.
"A gator turns up on a beach about once a month during the summer months," Karijanian said. "Of course, today (Tuesday) it was the busiest beach on the island."
Karijanian said it took two men, both from Critter Management, about two hours to corner the gator and snare it. The animal would not come close to shore, he said, because it was most likely scared of the hordes of people on the beach.
"He was dipping and moving and popping up 25 yards down the beach," Karijanian said.
Crews on jet skis eventually forced the animal to move closer to the shore, so Critter Management staff could secure it, he said.
Critter Management staff aren't sure how gators turn up in the surf, but their theory is the animals either search out salt water because they are injured, or, scared by crowds of people, are forced into the ocean.
"They can survive for days, even weeks, in the ocean," Karijanian said.
Aimee Mann, whose family has been vacationing on the island each year for about 30 years, joined the crowd to watch the gator capture. "We come to Hilton Head every year," said the Mount Airy, Md., resident. "I've never seen this happen."
Tuesday's incident turned out well for every person involved. No beachgoers were injured. The gator was turned over to state wildlife officials, he said.
"The crowds were cheering like a stadium full of people when they brought him in," Karijanian said.