• Wed. Sep 28th, 2022

‘Gator vs Shark’ – A Story Behind the POTD – Rowing Stories, Reports and Interviews

ByRandall B. Phelps

Aug 29, 2022

When Eugene Janssen sent in his ‘Alligator vs. Shark’ photo of the day, we thought there might be a good story behind the photo – after all, an ‘alligator bites a boat’ story doesn’t happen every days.

In fact, we’re pretty sure we’ve never heard of a seashell becoming a snack like this, and neither did Janssen…until he found his bow in the mouth of an alligator.

Janssen, who rows at the Greater Houston Rowing Club in Sugarland, Texas, was out in his single, about a mile from the boathouse when the alligator gnawed at his bow. He swam right away and Janssen was both unharmed and able to paddle to shore to get out of his boat. Although alligators are a part of life on his club’s waterway, this is the first boat bite incident he is aware of.

“We’ve had people rowing here for 34 years, and they said it was the first time something like this had happened. So no one had heard of it before.”

“We’ve seen alligators from time to time, but I myself have rowed quite a bit for the past eight years or so and only saw them once a year, or once every two years. We had a big one that was there maybe six, seven years ago, and they ended up pulling it out.

A less close encounter (E. Janssen)

(Editor’s note: Alligators deemed “pest gators” may be moved away from populated areas by Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife game wardens; you can read the “Pest Control Protocol alligator” from the TPWD here.)

“I remember one day I was rowing six years ago. We were in a quad and this alligator was just parked in the middle of the river; it didn’t move when we rowed. So we had this big alligator downstream, which was probably about eight feet long. [Until they removed him] the Club basically told us not to go downriver [towards him] in the April-May period when it’s mating season and that big guy would be more aggressive and visible.”

“After that, I never really saw any alligators until recently. I mean, I only saw one, probably the same alligator that bit the boat. I saw it there a few years ago and basically I was rowing and hit it with my blade — and of course you don’t see it when you’re rowing and backing up.”

“This year, for two months, I have seen [that alligator] very regularly. There is an area where I can row upstream from our boathouse. It is an area where there is a path along the shore, a few hotels and a nice neighborhood with fountains and shops. So I tend to row a lot there, and then there’s a 400 yard side section of that waterway. Way back in the corner, I saw that alligator because I was just turning around there. They told me it was female and had a nest there, which would explain why I could still see it there even after mating season.”

Spinning, near the alligator nest in the corner (E. Janssen)

Spinning, near the alligator nest in the corner (E. Janssen)

“Every time I turned around there, I just saw her there in the corner most days. Sometimes when she wasn’t around and maybe she was a little down this 400m section, if she saw me at the end of the section near her nest, she would just come swim and go back to her nest, so I saw her swim a few times.

“On the day of the incident I was basically walking into this section and about halfway through – maybe about 200 yards from her nest – I just felt a bump and heard a crack. I thought, ‘That doesn’t sound right.’ But I thought there might be damage to the hull or maybe the boat might leak but I really didn’t realize the alligator had bitten the boat I thought I just hit something in water.

“Right away I saw the alligator right next to me. Of course, that made me a little nervous, but she was lazily turning around and going underwater, so she wasn’t aggressive at that time. But I think because she caught the boat [when she bit it], she must have been dragged a little, because I was moving, and maybe bumped against the boat. But she wasn’t really interested in me, I guess.”

“Afterwards I checked the forward compartment, opened the little hatch and saw water coming in. I was just sitting there debating if I could row to the boathouse. But the water got deeper and deeper, so I thought, “Well, maybe if I start backing up,” because the bow was getting deeper and deeper, so I was trying to get closer to the stern but then the water started pouring into the middle part of the boat and I said, ‘Well, that won’t work.'”

The bitten boat, on land just after (E. Janssen)

The bitten boat, on land just after (E. Janssen)

“Fortunately I was close to the shore – it’s not a very wide area there – and I was able to move the boat. The single was actually very stable with so much water in the boat! I was able to just move it to shore and then walk over the few rocks there to the side so I didn’t even have to get in the water really I just picked up the boat left the water to drain, then I returned to the boathouse with the boat on my shoulders.”

Janssen said he wasn’t really scared: “I was already thinking about how I’m going to get the boat back to the boathouse.”

“I had seen this alligator before, it had been swimming close to my boat and wasn’t really aggressive. The moment it happened, when I saw it right next to me, I felt a bit nervous but he didn’t look aggressive so either he wasn’t interested in me or was just more interested in going back to his nest ’cause I was in that section where his nest is maybe that she saw me as a threat, going to her nest, and just giving me a warning.”

Janssen said the bite marks clearly show that the alligator attacked from below: “She must have had her head completely upright because there is a bite mark on both sides of the boat: one side is more bitten , but you can see the teeth marks on the other side too.”

Janssen’s only regret, besides not having found a way to row home and avoid his one-mile boat ride, is that he will soon have the hull repaired as new, erasing the proofs of his memorable meeting:

“I just took my boat this morning to a shop that can fix it, but thought it would be cool if they could fix it so you can still see the dent marks, right? not ?”

He says the game wardens are also working to catch this alligator, and when they do, he’ll get a definitive answer on its actual size, but he’s guessing probably around six feet, after looking closely.

Funny enough, Janssen’s niece had recently shown her daughter a video of a man carrying an alligator as an “emotional support animal” and her daughter had joked that maybe the alligator that Janssen would see every days wanted to be his support animal.

After the morsel the animal pulled out of its boat, Janssen is pretty sure the alligator is not at all interested in this arrangement.

One last look (E. Janssen)

One last look (E. Janssen)