Biting the Hand that Feeds

August 13th, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

An airboat captain gets arrested after losing a hand. Punished already?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

At first blush, this seems like a story of a man who’s already suffered enough. An Everglades airboat captain was dangling a fish over the side of his boat when a 9-foot alligator snapped it up – along with his hand. According to the News-Press, he was arrested six weeks later and charged with the second-degree misdemeanor charge of unlawful feeding of an alligator, which carries with it a fine of up to $500 and possible jail time.

After the attack, Florida Fish and Wildlife officers began an investigation into whether the captain had fed or provoked the alligator. Interviews they conducted with the Indiana family aboard his boat, and apparently some photographic evidence, showed that he had indeed been taunting gators.

You might think that 63-year-old captain Wallace Weatherholt had been punished already. But David Weathers, a nuisance-alligator trapper in the area, explained to the News-Press that Weatherholt’s actions could have taken a far greater toll. Once people feed gators, he said, the animals lose their natural fear of humans. If the alligator had been fed in the past, just the sight of the airboat could attract it.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officer Jorge Pino told ABC News, “As soon as you say there’s an alligator that’s not afraid of humans, that’s like signing a death warrant for that alligator […] The more people abide by the rules on the books, the safer the gators will be, and more importantly, the safer the humans will be.” FWC officers later tracked down the gator and euthanized it (later finding the hand in its stomach – but it was too late to reattach it).

As unmerciful as it may seem, holding Weatherholt to the letter of the law – despite his loss – could save lives. What’s your vote: make him an example, or let him off the hook?