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Tour boat captain whose hand was bitten off by gator in Tampa for reattachment surgery

The Everglades airboat tour started like most. Revved engines, six windswept tourists and an hourlong trek through the saw grass.

But it didn't end like others.

The tour guide's left hand was bitten off by a 9-foot alligator, which authorities then found, killed and slit open just outside of the national park in southwest Florida.

Inside the beast's belly: Wallace "Captain Wally" Weatherholt's severed hand.

Weatherholt, 63, and his hand were taken to a nearby hospital in Naples, where doctors were pleased with the body part's condition. From there, the Naples native was transferred to Tampa General, where a medical team is attempting to reattach it.

Glenn Smith, manager at Captain Doug's Small Airboat Tours in Everglades City, said his tour guide was "in good spirits."

"The business does whatever it can to help Wally," he said. "It's an unfortunate incident."

As soon as the emergency call came in at 3:47 p.m. Tuesday, Florida Fish and Wildlife officers rushed to help, spokeswoman Carli Segelson said. Witnesses helped point out the gator. It wasn't long before the reptile was captured.

Wildlife officials suspect the animal attacked because it had been fed by the tour guide or someone else. An investigation was underway.

"It's dangerous and illegal to feed an alligator," Segelson said. "When alligators are fed, they overcome a natural fear of humans and they can learn to associate people as food."

Tampa General Hospital did not provide details on Weatherholt's condition.

Alligators — which live in swamps, lakes, rivers and wetlands — are found in all 67 Florida counties. Since 1948, there has been an average of five unprovoked bites a year across the state.

Gators like to swallow some meals whole. Biologists say their teeth, as menacing as they look, just aren't made for chewing.

Tour boat captain whose hand was bitten off by gator in Tampa for reattachment surgery 06/13/12 [Last modified: Friday, June 15, 2012 9:53am]
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