“Take mating season seriously,” says Florida man who was bitten by an alligator
Florida resident Jeffrey Heim was searching for shark teeth in the Myakka River when his life changed forever. Now he hopes sharing his near-death alligator encounter will help save others from the same fate.
On that day, May 30, 2021, Heim made two big mistakes. He dived in alone – I felt invincible – and it’s mating season
“I’ve dived in that river a few times before, I’d say three or four times,” Heim said. Newsweek. “Every time I visit, I spend a few hours there. But I would go with my mentor and very experienced extreme cameraman Mark Rackley. “He has a lot of experience, especially with alligators, so I always modeled after him when I was diving.”
After about a minute in the water, he was struck by what appeared to be a boat propeller moving at 50 miles per hour. “He came up behind me so I didn’t see or hear him coming,” he said.
Before he knew what had happened, Heim was severely bitten on the head and arm by a 7-foot-long female alligator. “He gave me a second to feel my head and really understand what was going on with me,” Heim said. “But then he tried to get me – I could see in his eyes that he wanted to kill me and get the job done. I had to get out of the way as soon as possible.”
Pay attention to mating season
Florida is home to 1.3 million alligators, and the state averages 10 unprovoked attacks each year, according to the Florida Wildlife Commission. Most alligators are naturally afraid of humans, but they can become aggressive when they associate people with food, so feeding alligators in the wild is illegal.
According to Heim, this alligator may have learned to associate humans with food. But there may be another, seasonal reason for its aggressiveness depending on the time of year.
“The experts who removed it think it was protecting the nest,” Heim said. “They didn’t see a nest on the side they were on, but the nest could have been on the other side of the river.”
Alligator mating season is between May and June each year, and egg-laying continues from June to July. Alligators are typically more active and territorial this time of year, said Frank Mazzotti, an alligator expert and associate professor at the University of Florida. Newsweek.
“(Alligator attacks are most common) during the hottest months of the year, from May to September, but they can happen anytime,” he said. “Be careful, be careful and be aware of your surroundings.”
Heim said he was aware of the alligators’ mating season, but he “just didn’t take it seriously” or seriously enough. “It was my fault”.
Two days in intensive care
Although death from an alligator bite is rare, Heim knows how lucky he is to have survived the attack. “The ability to act after that head injury was amazing,” he said. “I was able to leave and climb up the bank, which was about 6 feet high (…) But even if he had taken my breath away, that would have been a completely different story.”
After coming out of the water, Heim was taken to the hospital and received 34 staples in his head. “I’ve felt every one of those 34 loops, and they feel exactly as you’d imagine,” he said.
After two days in intensive care, Heim was sent home. But she said she felt like a “zombie” for days. “All the head injuries and blood loss tore me apart. I’m tired.”
The staples were removed nine days later, but Heim continued to struggle with subsequent infections and fatigue for several weeks. “When I found out I was going to live, I cried like a baby like I’ve never cried before,” she said. “Everything was in my hands, out of my control, I was very happy with life.”
Nearly two years after the incident, Heim says the attack changed his outlook on life forever. “I was instantly transformed,” he said. “I am very happy to have survived this mistake.
“I have great respect for this beast of prey. I never wanted that alligator to die. A wildlife representative came to my room and explained everything briefly and I told them “don’t kill him”. I was at his house.’
Heim now uses his passion for collecting shark teeth to raise awareness about Florida’s ecosystem and wildlife. She does this through SHRKco, a company that sells handmade shark tooth jewelry and donates a portion of the profits to marine research and conservation groups. “I love seeing people appreciate the shark teeth that I worked so hard and risked my life on so many times,” Heim said.
Despite spending a lot of time hunting shark teeth in the past, Heim hasn’t encountered an alligator in the wild since the attack. After the incident, he returned to the Myakka River twice, but always with other divers. “I did it the right way, much safer and at a much better time of year,” he said. “It was a great experience to take the mating season seriously.”
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