Biting the Hand (Off) That Feeds You

31 Jul, 2012 Bob Wilson


In what had to be a most memorable airboat tour of the Florida Everglades, an Indiana family was treated to a rare and special event, when their tour boat operator demonstrated how not to entice an alligator to leap.

Then they got to see him drive an airboat with one hand.

Then they got to read about him being arrested for illegally feeding an alligator.

I hope they tipped him well, as it had to be one heart pumping tour.

63 year old Wallace Weatherholt was captaining an airboat in the Everglades, when he attempted to make an alligator leap by dangling a fish just above the water. Proving the prescience of the statement “be careful what you wish for”, Weatherholt was successful in his endeavor. Unfortunately for him, a 9 foot alligator, whose brain is slightly smaller than our own adventuresome Captain's, did not know the difference between the fish and his hand. So it took them both.

Weatherholt, who works for Captain Doug's Small Airboat Tours in Everglades City, FL, was giving a tour to the Indiana family at the time of the incident. Captain Doug's website says that “Captain Doug invites you on a narrated, scenic tour of the Everglades.”

I wonder if the narration included the phrase, “Holy crap, that alligator just ate my hand! Who wants to learn how to drive an airboat?”

To his credit Captain Wally drove the boat back himself, getting the family safely to the launch point. It was no doubt a memorable vacation that the children will long remember. The hand, which was recovered from the captured gators stomach, could not be reattached.

A few weeks after this occurred, Florida Fish and Wildlife authorities began looking into whether Weatherholt provoked the gator. You see, it is illegal to feed those critters in this state. It seems that alligators have what I would consider a naturally healthy fear of humans, but when people feed them, they eventually lose that fear and instead view us as gigantic pork chops. With applesauce. Yummy.

He now faces a second degree misdemeanor charge related to the incident, and has posted a $1,000 bond. His trial is set for August 22nd.

Meanwhile, Captain Doug has set up a fund to collect donations to help pay Weatherholt's medical bills. I searched the Florida Division of Workers' Compensation Proof of Coverage database, and could not find any Captain Doug's operation listed. That may be perfectly legal, if Captain Doug has 4 employees or less and is not in the construction arena, he is not required to have workers' comp coverage in Florida. It would seem that Captain Doug's Small Airboat Tours is a relatively small operation, and just got a bit smaller.

Still, seems like workers' comp insurance might not be a bad idea after all. Especially when your tour actors have a propensity to bite (off) the hand that feeds them.


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