I finally made it to Darwin in July this year, fulfilling my long-time goal of visiting Northern Territory’s (NT) national parks at some point during my lifetime. My first stop was the Adelaide River. This river is well-known for its high concentration of saltwater crocodiles, along with other wildlife including sea eagles, whistling kites and black flying foxes. The crocodiles are a protected species here. Getting onboard the Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruise gave me the chance for a close-up view of these elusive reptiles in their natural habitat from the safety of a boat.
Just an hour’s drive from Darwin city, this 75-minute cruise is manned by a very experienced and knowledgeable all-girl crew. We were well-briefed on crocodile safety during the boat ride and the skipper kept us entertained with crocodile anecdotes, preferred lifestyle and eating habits!
Before going on this trip, I had no idea about how intelligent these creatures are. My previous experience with crocodiles was limited to seeing them in the zoo – eyes shut and motionless in the shallow concrete pond. I’ve also spent many nail-biting moments watching movies where crocodiles took centrestage – Lake Placid, Alligator, Rogue, Crocodile Dundee, Primeval, Dinocroc, etc.
However, it’s just not the same as seeing these creatures up close in their natural surroundings.
I was thrilled to get a seat at the front of the small boat, right next to where the bait catcher dangled raw meat from a pole, while dipping it in and out of the water to attract the crocodiles. Everyone was fidgeting with excitement when we saw our first crocodile making its way towards the boat. With its eyes never leaving the bait, it started to move in towards the meat. After getting very close to the bait, it began to position itself upright, with about one-third of its body out of the water. Then, with a powerful whip of its tail, it jumped out of the water, mouth wide open, teeth bared and snapped at the meat! It all happened in a split second, so you can imagine the gore and horror if that prey happened to be you! Yikes!
While we could see only one crocodile jumping out of the water and chomping down the meat at any one time, we were told that there are actually many crocodiles swimming underneath the water. The smaller crocs prefer to keep their distance, allowing the bigger and more dominant ones to have a go at the bait.
After four or five crocodiles had demonstrated their jumping prowess, I heard loud noises approaching me from above. It was the whistling kites’ turn to be fed – birds of prey swooping at lightning speed and grabbing the leftover scraps of meat thrown in the air. These feathered scavengers were so quick with their catch that not a single scrap was allowed to fall into the water. By the time I adjusted my shutter speed to catch the action on camera, it was all over!
Crocodile Safety Guidelines
The danger of a crocodile attack is ever present and real in NT. Crocodile warning signs are plentiful. My scheduled visit to a waterfall was cancelled because a swimmer had spotted a crocodile in the waterhole a week earlier and the whole place had to be closed!
The safety guidelines below tell us that crocodiles are astute hunters, and crocodile warning signs must be taken very seriously.
- First, observe warning signs. These signs warn of the very real risks in and around the water. Anywhere with signs means that the risk is greatest in those areas.
- Don’t assume it’s safe to swim if there is no sign! Treat any body of water in crocodilian habitat as potentially dangerous.
- Stay away from the water’s edge. The closer to the water, the higher the risk of a crocodile attack.
- Do not wade in shallow water.
- Never stand on logs or similar overhanging near the water. Australian saltwater crocodiles can jump to attack! Never turn your back, always face the water.
- Do not lean over the water from boats, overhanging banks or trees. Some species are known to launch their entire body length out of the water to catch their prey.
- Avoid predictable activities at the water’s edge. Crocodiles hunt effectively by learning routines and patterns by their prey. They are fast learners.
- Don’t clean fish near the water, or throw fish scraps in the water. Be careful when launching boats. Don’t dangle your arms or legs over the side of the boat.
- Don’t feed crocodiles. It increases the risk of being attacked, whether deliberate or not.
- Don’t leave food scraps around. Food attracts predators and scavengers, including crocodiles.
- Avoid areas of crocodilian activity. If you see slide marks, drag marks or fattened vegetation, stay clear of that area as there is a good chance that a crocodile is not far away.
Avoid places where native animals or cattle drink. That’s exactly where a lazy crocodile would be waiting for an opportunity to attack. Saltwater crocodiles are opportunists when it comes to hunting. They stalk their prey, hide under water and wait. A crocodile you can see is less dangerous than one you can’t see.
- Be wary during the breeding and nesting season – Crocodiles become more active and aggressive during September to May. The warmer weather also allows the cold-blooded reptiles to move faster.
- Be particularly vigilant at night time during the warmer months, when crocodilian activity levels are at their highest.
This crocodile cruise was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to NT!