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Decapitation at Damper Creek – Crocodile Cannibalism

Croc lunch: The decapitated crocodile found at Damper Creek, off the Hinchinbrook Channel.

A “monster” saltwater crocodile decapitated a smaller crocodile at Damper Creek earlier this month during a shocking and gruesome encounter that one witness described as “a once in a lifetime experience”.

In what is assumed to have been the aftermath of a territorial attack fuelled by breeding season, a crocodile estimated to be between six and seven meters long was evidently interrupted while making a meal out of a three-meter crocodile that was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Cardwell resident Robyn Smith, who witnessed the unique, though apparently not unheard-of event with her partner Chris Stoter, was initially not sure what she was seeing after spotting a “white, floating, long thing” from her boat on the other side of Damper Creek.

Robyn and Chris regularly spot and photograph crocodiles at Damper Creek but it’s the first time they have witnessed a crocodile eating one of its kind.

“It was this curiosity… I kept going ‘I wonder what that is?’” said Ms Smith.

“We noticed that it didn’t move so we said we’ll go for a look, then it went under the water and I said OK, so it’s something alive,” she said.

“Then it popped up and then it went back down again and then it moved, we couldn’t make it out. We just couldn’t identify it.

“Then as we got up close this big, big, effing big head came out of the water with this thing [in its mouth] and Chris said ‘Oh God, it’s a croc with another croc!’”

Ms Smith said that the smaller crocodile was “definitely dead” by the time she and Mr Stoter arrived on the grisly scene and the bigger crocodile was in the process of eating its victim.

“He was taking him, and taking him under, he was moving around with him,” she said.

“He definitely wasn’t playing with him.”

Ms Smith said that she can “still see that head coming out”, which she estimated to be around 900mm long, but added that once they got closer, the enormous predator released its prey and disappeared into the murky depths of the waterway.

“He wanted it, obviously, but as we got in closer, he let it go,” she said.

Robyn Smith, got the surprise of her life while fishing up Damper Creek, when she witnessed crocodile cannibalism.

Despite spotting many crocodiles in Damper Creek before, and another one since, Ms Stoter said that she didn’t know much about crocodile behaviour but felt lucky to have observed the spectacle, which lasted just over five minutes.

As soon as she recognised that they were watching crocodile cannibalism in the wild, Ms Smith decided to film the savage episode and provided a full commentary to accompany the video footage.

In an unfortunate turn of events, Ms Smith was “shattered” to learn after the macabre meal was cut short and the smaller crocodile was left floating headless in the water that she had forgotten to press ‘record’ in all of the excitement.

“I only got the photo of the one that was dead,” she said.

Once the adrenaline wore off, Ms Smith and Mr Stoter realised that the white thing that had originally captured their attention was the underside, or belly, of the deceased animal that was floating upside down.

Chris Stoter checking crab pots along Damper Creek.

Both male and female crocodiles are notoriously territorial and are reported to be more aggressive during breeding season between September and April, when males are even less tolerant of intruders and females defend their nesting sites.

Whilst cannibalism is not considered commonplace for the species, it is certainly a documented occurrence.

Crocodiles are known to turn on each other to control their population, often when their food sources are low and sometimes to show dominance. 

Cannibalistic crocodiles tend to avoid other crocs their size and females at the age of reproduction but cannibalism is known to be more prevalent around the hotter months of the wet season during breeding season.

As visitors flock to the area and locals prepare for boating, camping and fishing adventures for the upcoming long weekend, the Damper Creek decapitation is a reminder to always be vigilant.

The Department of Environment and Science emphasises on its website that no waterway in northern Queensland can ever be considered crocodile-free.

When camping, fishing, swimming or sightseeing in the area, remember to be “Crocwise” and follow these tips:

  • Stay at least five metres from the water’s edge.
  • Dispose of your food, bait and fish scraps in a bin.
  • Do not feed crocodiles.
  • Be extra cautious at night, dusk and dawn.
  • Do not use kayaks, paddleboards and other small craft in crocodile habitat areas – the smaller the vessel, the greater the risk.
  • Stay well away from crocodile traps.
  • Dogs are attractive prey to crocodiles, so keep your pets on a lead and away from the water’s edge.
  • Watch out for crocodiles in unusual places after very high tides and heavy rains.
  • Breeding female crocodiles will defend their nests aggressively.
  • Crocodiles are more active during the warmer months of the wet season.
  • While fishing, use an esky, tackle box or similar object as a barrier between you and the water.
  • Leave the lure. People have been attacked while recovering a fishing lure.
  • Tie off your cast net to your boat. In the event that a crocodile is caught in a cast net, this will prevent you from being pulled into the water.
  • Your boat is your barrier. Keep the boat between yourself and the water when launching or retrieving it and face the water whenever possible.
  • Keep your arms and legs inside your boat at all times.
  • Camp at least 50 metres from the water’s edge.
  • Limit your time at the water’s edge when collecting water and don’t use the same spot repeatedly.
  • Swim between the flags at patrolled beaches.
  • Do not swim in murky water.
  • Read and obey all crocodile warning signs.
  • Understand that crocodiles usually hunt by staying submerged and can attack in knee-deep water so wading can still be dangerous.
  • The removal of crocodiles in an area doesn’t eliminate the risk of an attack.

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