Alligators feel at home in Lake Pontchartrain

Published: Sep. 10, 2014 at 12:01 AM CDT
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People are still talking about the 12-year-old who was attacked by an alligator in the lake last weekend. Matthew Kelly is recovering, but others who love to swim and fish in Lake Pontchartrain wonder if they're at risk.

"I think there's some concern warranted, for sure," said John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. "We know there are alligators in Lake Pontchartrain, especially if there is some kind of natural habitat on the shoreline that they might favor."

Matthew Kelly and his dad were spear fishing about 30 yards into the water on Saturday when a gator took a bite out of Matthew's leg.

"It wasn't painful because the adrenaline was going on," the injured boy said.

The father and son were across the levee from a part of the Bayou Savauge Wildlife Refuge.

"We know there are lots of alligators in the refuge. It certainly seems possible that an alligator may have crossed the levee and gotten into the lake looking for something to eat," Lopez said.

Scott Kelly says he shot an 8-pound sheepshead and had it on the end of his gun. That fish may have attracted the gator.

"If he had that fish in the water before the attack, definitely," Lopez said. "Any fish oil in the water or blood will attract alligators or sharks."

Alligators are accustomed to fresh water marshes and swamps. Lopez says the lake has been fresh for the last couple of years. He says some workers in his office near the lighthouse saw an alligator a couple of months ago floating close to The Point.

"They can be almost anywhere near the shoreline," he said.

Lopez says top predators like sharks and alligators can be dangerous, but on the positive side their presence indicates a healthy ecosystem in the lake.

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