CLEARWATER — The warnings came too late.
By the time witnesses told him to watch out, the 11-foot gator already had Richard Peel in its clutches.
On Monday, Peel, 35, became the latest Floridian to suffer an attack by alligator as he tried to pull a golf disc from the water in Cliff Stephens Park. After two gators were removed from the park that night, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said it’s keeping an eye on activity there.
"There’s a lot of people that fish at that lake, so we’re going to be monitoring as well," FWC spokeswoman Ashley Tyer said.
FWC got the call Monday around 5 p.m. Peel had been playing disc golf at the park when he went to grab the disc from the lake. The 11-foot male gator grabbed him, but witnesses were able to help fight it off and pull Peel out. Peel was transported to Mease Countryside Hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
Tyer said witnesses were able to keep their eyes on the gator, allowing trappers dispatched by the FWC Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program to positively identify it and pull it out of the lake. Whenever the FWC identifies nuisance gators, contracted trappers are dispatched to trap them. They’re then allowed to sell the hide and meat.
Shortly after the gator that attacked Peel was trapped, Tyer said another 6-foot female gator was identified as a nuisance and removed as a precaution.
"It appeared she is very used to people and possibly has been fed," Tyer said. "We wanted to take the proactive approach and remove that gator."
The attack comes a few weeks after a homeless woman was bitten by an alligator while taking a nighttime dip in Lake Hernando.
Last month, researchers from the University of North Florida issued a report to the Ecological Society of America stating alligator attacks have been on the rise in Florida since the reptile was removed from the endangered species list in 1987. The researchers said humans are to blame for the uptick.
"Using simple pairwise linear regression, we found that only human population size was a reliable predictor of alligator attack rates in Florida during the period 1988-2016," Morgan Golden-Ebanks and Adam E. Rosenblatt said in the report. "As a result, management of human-alligator conflict should focus on limiting human-alligator interactions and preventing the further development of areas used by alligators."
Data from the FWC indicates that alligator bites on humans have increased from about six per year between 1971 and 1986 to about 10 per year from 1987 through 2017.
In light of the spike in human-gator interactions, the FWC is putting more energy into addressing those encounters.
"The FWC recently revised management objectives to address Florida’s healthy, thriving alligator population," Tyer wrote in a news release. "In the interest of public safety, our intent is to reduce the population of this robust, sustainable resource in areas where people and alligators are most likely to come in contact."
The FWC encourages anyone who believes a specific alligator poses a threat to people, pets or property to call the Nuisance Alligator Hotline at (866) 392-4286.
If a gator does attack, the FWC said to fight back and fight hard.
The FWC advises "if an alligator bites you, the best thing to do is fight back, providing as much noise and resistance as possible."
Daniel Figueroa IV can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @danuscripts