1 April 2024

Cape croc takes bite out of migratory tourist’s visit

| Cape York Weekly
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The two-metre saltwater crocodile ends the pomarine jaeger’s migration on the beach at Pelican Island last week. Photo: Department of Environment, Science and Innovation.

Cape York residents have a reputation for welcoming visitors to their neck of the woods, but a Pelican Island crocodile chomped into that belief last week when it put an end to an Arctic guest’s travel plans.

Department of Environment, Science and Innovation rangers conducting bird surveys on the aptly named Pelican Island captured the brutality of nature as the crocodile emerged from the ocean to grab a pomarine jaeger, a migratory bird that breeds in the Arctic tundra and spends the rest of the year at sea.

The island is about 15 kilometres from the Cape York coast, with rangers using the incident as a reminder the reptiles can be found in any waterway or coastal island in Croc Country.

Senior Ranger Lee Hess said rangers had completed a lap of the island to record the numbers and species of birds, and saw the crocodile in the shallows.

“We were lucky enough to take photos and videos of the crocodile as it crawled from the ocean, but what we didn’t know is it set its sights on the bird,” Mr Hess said.

“Pomarine jaegers are an Arctic, migratory bird, and while it is not uncommon to see them in Australian waters or on coastal islands, there [aren’t] many recorded sightings on Great Barrier Reef islands.”

Rangers are unsure whether the two-metre crocodile had taken up residence on the island, given they are mobile animals capable of swimming up to 50 kilometres in a day.

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Mr Hess said the interaction between the crocodile and the bird may have been a historic, albeit brutal, moment.

“The pomarine jaeger was the only one of its species on the island, and I’m not sure if it had ever seen a crocodile before and wasn’t attuned to the danger,” he explained.

“The bird wasn’t looking at the ocean, and the crocodile simply grabbed it then headed back to the water.”

“We believe it is the first recorded meeting between an estuarine crocodile and a pomarine jaeger, and, unfortunately, it was a long way to fly to end up like this.”

Lama Lama Rangers operations manager Gavin Bassani said Pelican Island was an important habitat in the far northern Great Barrier Reef region for a number of migratory bird species.

“It’s a shame this one travelled so far, only to succumb to the dangers of Cape York,” Mr Bassani said.

“I guess coming from the Arctic region, crocodiles are not their usual threat.

“We will continue to monitor the migratory bird populations visiting the offshore islands in Lama Lama sea waters.”

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