A Queensland man who survived a crocodile attack by prising the reptile’s jaws off his head says he was “simply in the wrong place, at the wrong time”.
Marcus McGowan, 51, was snorkelling near the Charles Hardy Islands, 40km off the Cape York coast, with his wife and friends when he was attacked on Saturday.
The Gold Coast resident was taken from behind by the saltwater crocodile and initially thought it was a shark until he reached up with his hands.
“I realised it was a crocodile. I was able to lever its jaws open just far enough to get my head out,” McGowan said in a statement released by the Cairns health service.
“The crocodile then attempted to attack me a second time, but I managed to push it away with my right hand, which was then bitten. I was able to escape the crocodile’s grip once again and swim to the safety of the boat which was coming after they heard our screams for help.”
McGowan estimated the crocodile was a 2-3 metre-long juvenile. The keen surfer and diver was taken by boat to Haggerstone Island 45 minutes away, before being flown by helicopter to Thursday Island hospital. He was later transferred to Cairns hospital for treatment of scalp lacerations and puncture wounds on his head and hand.
“When you enter the marine environment, you are entering territory that belongs to potentially dangerous animals, such as sharks and crocodiles,” McGowan said. “I was simply in the wrong place, at the wrong time.”
People who escape crocodile attacks usually frighten the reptiles, Billy Collett, the operations manager at Australia Reptile Park, said.
“Crocodiles are the hardest-biting animal on the planet,” he said. “But when people do fight back, they seem to let go. He probably scared the croc which realised it grabbed something too big to handle.”
The Queensland science department is investigating.
“It is important that crocodile sightings and crocodile incidents are reported in a timely manner,” the department said in a statement. “Crocodiles in the open ocean can be difficult to locate as the animals often travel tens of kilometres per day.”
The area around Haggerstone Island is known as “croc country,” the department said while urging visitors to practice “crocwise behaviour”.
It warned crocodiles could be in all waterways, even if there were no warning signs. People in smaller vessels like canoes and kayaks were at greater risk of attack, as were people standing close to the water’s edge or wading through while fishing, the department said.
Saturday’s incident followed other crocodile attacks in the region this year.
In April, a 65-year-old man’s foot was bitten as he slept on Newell Beach. A man in his 40s sustained serious injuries to his abdomen, leg and head while fishing at Archer Point, while a 65-year-old was killed while fishing at Lakefield national park in Cape York. His remains were found in two crocodiles.
In February, a crocodile over 4 metres long attacked a man and ate his dog south of Cooktown.