Maryland Natural Resources police have interviewed the young fisherman who reported spying an alligator in the Patapsco River. And they say they believe him. But a preliminary search of the area late Monday failed to turn up any further evidence of the tropical reptile.
"We believe the gentleman. That's why we sent an officer out to investigate," said Sgt. Art Windemuth, spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources Police. Animal control officers also joined the search. But no alligator appeared.
"We couldn't verify the animal was there, so we're just going to monitor the area," Windemuth said. Alligators are "not indigenous to the area. In addition to posing a danger to humans, it could also wreak havoc on the ecosystem."
Eric Hammack Jr., 16, says he saw an alligator while fishing Sunday evening with his cousin in Patapsco Valley State Park off Belle Grove Road, not far from his home in Pumphrey in northern Anne Arundel County.
Just after 6 p.m., he said, "I heard all this splashing." He didn't see anything he could identify at first, just something swimming from the shore into the pond's deeper water.
"I thought it was a turtle or something," he said.
He left it alone, but several minutes later he saw a head pop up. Then it began swimming closer, and when it was only a few feet away, he and his cousin got a better view. "It's an alligator," he said, estimating its length at "2 or 3 feet."
Hammack said he threw a rock at it, then thought better of the idea. "I started backing away from the shore," he said.
His mother, Thea Hammack, sent out a mass e-mail message to alert members of her community association and began calling state officials.
"We probably deal with a case or two a year," DNR Police Sgt. Brian K. Albert said Monday. "Someone will go to Florida, get an alligator. They try to raise it; it gets too big, and they turn it loose."
Keeping an alligator or its cousin, the caiman, is illegal in Maryland. Last week, DNR Police seized a small caiman from a home in Frederick County and served its owner with a warning.
But you're not supposed to set them free here, either.
In 2002, residents along Seneca Creek in eastern Baltimore County reported seeing a 2- or 3-foot alligator, or more likely a caiman. For several weeks, residents had spotted it under a gazebo or swimming in the creek.
Residents tried nets. The DNR and county police officers moved in with more nets and boats, but the reptile eluded them all.
Come winter, the problem in the Patapsco — if it really is an alligator or a caiman — will solve itself. "They'll perish in wintertime conditions," Albert said. Still, if there's a reliable sighting, DNR officers will try to catch them.
"We'd hate for somebody to get bit," he said.
http://twitter.com/froylanceMaryland weather blog: Frank Roylance on meteorology
Sign up for FREE mobile weather alerts