Catching a glimpse of an alligator, especially near one of Central Florida's lakes, is not a surprise. Thousands of them call the area home, and many of those could be called a monster gator.
The term Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation uses is bull gator, and that means a gator that measures over 9 feet long.
Every year, FWC officers do surveys to see how many gators are living in each lake and how many of those qualify as bull gators. They also conduct mercury tests on alligators.
For that, FWC biologists need an airboat and lights for the nighttime excursion. News 6 went along for the ride.
"This is fairly equipment-intensive," said biologist Arnold Brunell .
"We're going to shine a spotlight, and we'll see the reflection of their eyes," said Brunell.
Brunell and another biologist, Kyle Mader, were the only two people on Lake Apopka that night, but they were far from alone.
They study the gator population on Central Florida lakes.
The team scans the water with several bright lights. Once they spot something, Brunell steers the airboat toward the gator, while Mader leans over the bow of the boat. Then, he grabs the animal with his bare hands, while Brunell tapes the snout.
"Now, we got the business end under control," said Brunell.
After catching the alligator, it's time for paperwork, and the gator-wranglers look more like medics. They collect blood, check mercury levels, weigh, measure and tag the reptile, documenting everything.
On this particular trip, they're hunting for little gators and releasing them, all while avoiding the huge ones like a 12-footer they came across.
Those big gators are the focus of another mission, when crews take a census for gators.
For example, Lake Apopka and Lake Jesup have the reputation of having the most gators. They do have a lot, but they don't top the list in total gators or in the amount of monster bull gators that live there.
According to FWC's 2015 survey data, an area of Stick Marsh in northwest Indian River County had the most bull gators. Out of 206 total counted in one trip, 139 of those were over 9 feet long, 68 percent. On another survey trip by FWC, they counted 276 gators, 76 of which were bull gators.
The lake that had the most gators overall was Lake George, located on the St. Johns River. In one survey, FWC counted 2,322 gators, 26 of which were bull gators. At another survey, 2,016 were counted there with 43 bull gators.
Lake Kissimmee came in second for the most gators with 1,935 counted with 170 bull gators.
As far as Lake Apopka, it, too, was surveyed twice with 1,014 gators with 46 bulls at one time, 788 gators with 21 bulls at another. At Lake Jesup, 1,599 were counted at one time with 52 at 9 feet or larger, and at a second counting, they found 1,151 with 60 big ones.
News 6 anchor Matt Austin took to Sky 6 to see if he could spot any monster gators. It didn't take long to find a half dozen on the shores of Lake Apopka. Several of those were swimming very close to homes, right off shore.
Over Lake Jesup, Austin saw a couple of gators sunbathing on a private beach.
That may lead people to wonder, if FWC can find these giant gators and study them, should they get rid of them?
"By and large, gators don't kill people in Florida. Gators have killed about 50 people since we've been keeping track," said FWC Officer Brian Baine. "The fact of the matter is more people have been killed by lightning strikes."
Baine said gators are vital to the health of Florida's ecosystem, and big gator populations mean healthy lakes.
"Just because alligators scare you, just because sharks scare you, does not mean they are not important part of the environment," said Baine.
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