The Director of Environment has said her department cannot substantiate the earlier identification by a member of staff a four- to six-foot long crocodile off Seven Mile Beach.
Gina Ebanks-Petrie said that following ‘extensive observation and surveillance’, an examination of photographs provided by the member of staff who confirmed the sighting, and further discussion with her research team, the department ‘cannot conclusively say this is a crocodile’.
Ms Ebanks-Petrie said the department was not totally ruling out that a crocodile may be present in waters off Seven Mile Beach, but said so far there was no credible proof that this was the case.
She said staff from her department had repeatedly gone to sites where members of the public had reported an unusual wake in the water or had claimed to have seen a crocodile, but each time staff could not find it or they found other marine creatures, which had apparently been mistaken for crocodiles, for example sunfish, large jacks and small sharks.
‘If there was a crocodile off Seven Mile Beach, we would have expected to see it basking in the sun or at least see tracks in the sand. We did get one report of the crocodile being on the beach, but when we went down there, there were no tracks and no evidence of a crocodile,’ she said.
DoE staff says it is the normal behaviour of crocodiles to come ashore to bask, but so far no sightings of the crocodile on shore have been confirmed.
On one occasion, Chief Conservation Officer Mark Orr, jumped in the water where there had been a sighting and found instead two sunfish. Around the same period, divers from the Ritz Carlton also spotted sunfish in the vicinity, Ms Ebanks-Petrie said.
A statement from the Department of Environment said the officer who confirmed the sighting on 16 October had responded to a call and was patrolling the beach on a boat when he spotted what he described as a reptilian creature in the water, but he only got within 50 to 70 yards of the animal before it fled.
‘He was unable to get adequate photographs of the animal so the department is unable to conclusively state at this time that it was a crocodile which was observed,’ the statement said.
The photograph shown to the Caymanian Compass shows a slightly choppy sea and it is impossible to discern if and where there is a shape or a shadow in the water. The Compass has also received photographs from one member of the public, who said he had managed to capture an image of the crocodile, but again the image is blurry and it is impossible to ascertain if the picture is of a crocodile.
People have been reporting sightings of the creature that appears to be patrolling Seven Mile Beach since early September.
Police have also gone to look for the crocodile following reported sightings from the public, but they have also found nothing, said the acting public relations officer for the police, Fiona Gallegos.
According to Department of Environment research officer John Bothwell, if there is a crocodile on Seven Mile Beach, it is likely to be an American Crocodile because that is the species most likely to be seen in Cayman.
‘[The American Crocodile] is not an aggressive animal given to predating on people. To date there have been no recorded attacks by this species on humans in Florida,’ he said.
He advised the public to be ‘cautious and respectful’ of all wildlife they encounter. ‘As the Cayman Islands are part of the extended range of the American crocodile, this would naturally apply even more so to any crocodile they may be fortunate enough to observe,’ he said.
The DoE said most reported crocodile injuries occur when people try to capture, handle or otherwise molest crocodiles.
The department earlier stated that if a crocodile is in the water, it does not intend to capture it, in accordance with guidelines of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission which advises to leave individual wandering crocodiles alone.
Ms Ebanks-Petrie said that the department had relocated a small crocodile found in Prospect because of fears for its safety, rather than the safety of the public because it seemed likely someone would try to capture and kill it.
Mr. Bothwell said the sighting could be of many different animals, like sharks or sunfish, but because crocodiles have been mentioned in the press and among swimmers, everyone assumes what they’re seeing is a crocodile. ‘It could be anything,’ he said.
But the sightings are leaving the DoE staff baffled. ‘Every time somebody has made a report about something that was real, we have found it – the crocodile in Prospect, a manatee, the crocodile in Little Cayman. It is really puzzling that with all the effort we have put into finding this reported crocodile, it has not turned up.
‘We’re not trying to discount what people are saying, we are just saying it’s got us really puzzled that we cannot locate it given we have managed to find every other creature,’ Ms Ebanks-Petrie said.
Members of the public can report unusual sighting of marine animals in the water, or on land, to the DoE on 949-8469; or after hours on 916-5849, 916-4271.