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Authorities retrieve body from alligator's clutches

Hillsborough deputies encountered a strange sight Monday when they arrived at the IMC phosphate mines south of Plant City _ an alligator with a body in its jaws.

A worker at the mine called deputies about 3 p.m. after discovering the body of a Hispanic man at the mines off Hopewell Manor Road and James L. Redman Parkway, authorities said.

Investigators on Monday said they weren't sure whether the man was killed by the 8- to 9-foot-long gator or if he already was dead.

The man had been dead quite some time, they said.

The Hillsborough medical examiner will perform an autopsy on the body, which was retrieved by a sheriff's dive team.

Gary Morse, spokesman Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the sheriff's office will handle the case if foul play is suspected.

Because gator attacks are rare, Morse said, he wouldn't be surprised if the gator had attacked after the man's death.

"They are opportunistic," he said.

Authorities late Monday were trying to catch the gator in the small lake south of Plant City. Morse estimated that it could weigh up to 300 pounds.

He said it would be destroyed and a necropsy performed.