Sharks or gators?
Which one is at the top of the food chain in Hilton Head’s wild and crazy animal kingdom?
A Hilton Head alligator might have ended the debate.
On July 6, Kristen Poillon captured an island alligator named “Charlie” on video as he proudly chomped down on a bonnethead shark while swimming through Skull Creek.
OK, so it was kind of an unfair playing field considering the 7-foot gator dined on what was basically a baby shark.
Then again, the alligator was out of its normal habitat, swimming in the saltwater of Skull Creek, a part of the Intracoastal Waterway.
The two feared predators typically don’t cross paths because alligators lack saltwater glands, which makes it difficult for them to survive in coastal waters, according to Smithsonian’s National Zoo.
However, a recent study showed that alligators and sharks could be crossing paths more often now since American alligators are gaining tolerance for saltwater and showing up on beaches more frequently, according to a study published in Current Biology magazine.
“It’s not an outlier or short-term blip,” Duke ecologist Brian Silliman said in the study about gators appearing in saltwater. “It’s the old norm, the way it used to be before we pushed these species onto their last legs in hard-to-reach refuges. Now, they are returning.”
This isn’t the first time an alligator has gobbled up a shark for dinner, either.
A 2017 study found that alligators will eat pretty much anything, including four types of sharks, National Geographic reported.
Scientists have also found that the two species are ancient enemies of a sort. There’s also evidence of sharks attacking crocodiles in other parts of the world.
This isn’t even the first time an alligator has eaten a shark in Hilton Head waters, according to a photo posted by Science News Magazine.
Poillon, a server at Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks, said her co-workers “affectionately” named the alligator Charlie after seeing him cruising around the dock so often.
“He doesn’t seem aggressive,” she said. “He mostly shows up when the fishing charter boats start back to their season because the eating is good for him off the dock when they clean the fish.”
Poillon said employees get treated to the magic of wildlife often at Hudson’s. They see dolphins and even manta rays gathered at the same spot searching for scraps from the fishing boats.
“It’s like a wildlife refuge at times,” she said.
It’s important, however, to admire the wildlife from a safe distance.
It’s illegal — and very dangerous — to feed alligators. It could result in a fine or 30 days in jail, or someone getting seriously injured.