Snorkeller prised crocodile off his head

Saltwater crocodile - Bill Birtwhistle
Saltwater crocodile - Bill Birtwhistle

A snorkeller has described how a crocodile clamped its jaws around his head while he was swimming off the coast of Queensland in northern Australia.

Marcus McGowan was attacked by a saltwater crocodile while on a snorkelling trip from a luxury resort on Haggerstone Island, off the coast of Cape York in the tropical north of Queensland.

He managed to fight it off – only for the reptile to attack again.

Mr McGowan, his wife and a group of friends had anchored their boat and jumped into “crystal clear” waters about 25 miles off the Queensland coast at the weekend.

The 51-year-old said he was admiring coral and tropical fish when the crocodile came out of nowhere.

“I was attacked from behind by a saltwater crocodile which got its jaws around my head. I thought it was a shark but when I reached up, I realised it was a crocodile. I was able to lever its jaws open just far enough to get my head out.”

But his ordeal was not yet over.

“The crocodile then attempted to attack me a second time, but I managed to push it away with my right hand, which was then bitten by the croc.”

He managed to “escape the crocodile’s grip once again” and swam to the boat, which came to the rescue after the crew heard his screams for help.

The Gold Coast, Queensland - Moment RF
The Gold Coast, Queensland - Moment RF

The attack happened quickly but Mr McGowan estimates that the saltwater crocodile was probably a juvenile, perhaps three metres (10ft) long.

Had it been an adult, he may not have lived to tell the tale. Saltwater crocodiles are the largest reptiles in the world and can grow to a length of more than 20ft.

On land they inhabit rivers and swamps but they are also known to roam far out to sea.

Mr McGowan was taken by boat back to Haggerstone Island, one of the most remote private island resorts in Australia, where he was given first aid by a friend, a fireman who “knew what he was doing”.

A helicopter took him to a hospital on Thursday Island, another resort along the Great Barrier Reef, and from there to a bigger hospital in the city of Cairns on the mainland.

He suffered lacerations to his scalp as well as puncture wounds to his head and his hand.

Mr McGowan, who lives on the Gold Coast of southern Queensland, said in a statement that he bore no ill will towards the crocodile.

“I’m a keen surfer and diver and understand that when you enter the marine environment, you are entering territory that belongs to potentially dangerous animals, such as sharks and crocodiles. I was simply in the wrong place, at the wrong time. I’m just grateful it was me and not one of the kids or ladies in the group.”

Reptiles can travel tens of kilometres a day

Queensland’s environment department has launched an investigation into the attack.

“Crocodiles in the open ocean can be difficult to locate as the animals often travel tens of kilometres a day,” officials said.

It is the fifth crocodile attack in Queensland in the space of a few weeks.

Last month, an amateur fisherman was killed by a saltwater crocodile while fishing in Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park in a remote area of Queensland.

The remains of Kevin Darmody, 65, who ran a pub in the tiny outback town of Laura, were found in the stomachs of two crocodiles that were shot by authorities.

Also in April, a spear fisherman was attacked underwater by a crocodile and another man was bitten on the foot as he slept on a beach about 50 miles north of Cairns.

Local authorities warned people to be aware that saltwater crocodiles venture out to sea and that tourists should camp at least 50 metres from the water’s edge.

In February, wildlife rangers killed a large crocodile after it attacked a man and ate his pet dog at a boat-launching ramp near the town of Cooktown, Queensland.

Video of the attack showed the big “saltie” exploding out of murky river water and snatching the dog in just a second or two.

Saltwater crocodiles were almost hunted to extinction in Australia until they were declared a protected species in the 1970s.

Since then, the population has bounced back and is now recovering at a rate of two per cent a year, meaning there are now up to 30,000 crocodiles in Queensland alone.

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