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The Saltwater Crocodile – How to stay safe in croc territory

Wildlife Photography with marysejansenart

Photographing dangerous subjects – part 1

Saltwater Crocodile Close Up by Maryse Jansen
Saltwater Crocodile Close Up


Getting up close and personal with a saltwater crocodile is not a good idea. When photographing wildlife it is essential to keep yourself and the wildlife safe. I’m no fool, so keep reading to find out how I was able to take this photo from a safe position!

Saltwater crocodiles, affectionately called ‘Salties’ by Australians, are a cause of mixed emotions. We can be in awe of this dinosaur-like species with its massive strength. We can be terrified because they are very dangerous predators and we are on the menu! We can be respectful of them because they have an important role to play in our ecosystems and knowing that if we stay out of their way they will cause us no harm.

Crocs are apex predators

Crocodiles are on top of the food chain, they are an apex predator. They have a very important role to play. They control numbers and distribution of fish and other animals in their ecosystem. They also clean up the river by eating carcasses of other animals thus preventing infectious diseases developing in the water.

Their design has proven very succesful, as they’ve been around for over 65 million years pretty much unchanged! Salties are the largest reptile that currently lives on earth. They are generally quite lethargic, they don’t waste energy. They gently cruise the river or bask in the sun to warm up. These crocs can submerge for hours, laying in ambush of unaware prey that might come for a drink to the water’s edge. Since the waters in their habitat are often murky you really wouldn’t be able to see them!

Death Roll

Very suddenly they strike! Their massive tail is a very strong muscle that can launch them out of the water at lightning speed! You can hear their jaws clash together with an enormous force. Nothing or nobody is going to get out of there! Before you know it they’re back in the water, swallowing their prey whole, or if it’s too big violently rolling it around under water. This technique is called the death roll. The prey will quickly get disoriented and drown and the croc will shake its head vigorously to tear off edible chunks.

It’s a quick death. But not something I aspire! You can see that to be able to stay safe around crocs it is vitally important that I understand their behaviour!

Steve Irwin

Someone who largely contributed to being able to get to know and appreciate the saltwater crocodile was Steve Irwin (1962-2006). He was the famous zookeeper of Australia Zoo, who also made a name as a conservationist, environmentalist, wildlife expert and TV-personality (aka ‘The Crocodile Hunter’). Many people are familiar with the terms ‘Crikey’ and ‘Crocs Rule’ which have become part of Australian vocabulary thanks to this croc-lover.

Before we even dreamed of coming to Australia we used to watch his shows with our jaws dropped as he wrestled his crocs. But he conveyed a very clear message: he loved these animals with a passion and cared deeply about their conservation. Growing up among them and interacting with them all his life he knew more about them then anyone else. He would do anything to keep a crocodile as comfortable as possible when he went out to catch one and move it away from an area where it had caused conflict with humans. He has certainly left an impact on how I view and appreciate these reptiles!

What you need to know to stay safe in croc territory

  • Saltwater Crocodiles are found in northern and eastern Australia, ranging from Broome to Rockhampton. Their name suggests you would only find them in salt water. This is not true! They prefer the brackish water of estuaries, but they can also be found in fresh water as well as out at sea. Lazy as they may seem, they are able to swim long distances in the open ocean!
Crocodile Warning Sign
Crocodile Warning Sign
  • Where Salties live you will find these signs. Do not ignore them! You may not see the croc – but it can stay under water for hours … lurking, waiting patiently for the right moment to strike!
  • Don’t go near the water’s edge – keep at least 5 metres distance. Saltwater crocodiles can strike with lightning speed, pull you under, do a death roll or two…. You don’t stand a chance!
  • Never go in the water! Obvious, right? There is a myth going around that they can’t attack when submerged – don’t believe a word of it!
  • Also never be above the water, for instance on an overhanging branch. They can jump out metres high and take you down!
  • Saltwater crocs are very territorial. Even if they are not hungry they might still attack you for moving into their territory!
  • You can go in a boat but take good care: the bigger your boat, the less likely they are to attack it. And never let your limbs hang outside of the boat! Keep your distance.
  • Do not camp within 50m of the water’s edge and do not leave food scraps around or clean your fish near the water.

Time to shoot

After learning all this, and most importantly knowing what not to do, I was ready to travel into croc territory. A great place to see these beauties in the wild is the Daintree River in tropical north Queensland. I have visited this place on several occasions and it’s stunning. The river doesn’t belong to but is surrounded by parts of the Daintree National Park with it’s ancient rainforests. A ‘family’ of about 70 crocodiles lives here and several cruise operators offer tours on the river that show you the crocs and other wildlife.

A perfect way to safely approach these amazing creatures. The guides are very knowledgeable and the crocodiles are used to their boats and tolerate them. Just be sure to keep your arms inside the boat at all times!!!

Cruising the river I learned how well camouflaged these creatures can be as we found ourselves often wondering: is that a log floating in the river or a croc? (which reminded me of the termite nests in the trees, which can easily be mistaken for a koala! Read my post ‘Koala Spotting‘ to learn more about this) And when lying on the river banks their colours blend perfectly with the mud and mangrove roots as you can see in the photo. They are really easy to miss, despite their enormous size, which demonstrates how dangerous croc territory can be. I found it very exciting to be a guest of their river home and be able to take a closer look into their world from a safe place!

Bonus: more interesting saltwater crocodile facts

  • Salties are the largest croc in the world (males up to 6 m and 1000kg and females up to 3 m)
  • They have the strongest bite in animal kingdom (3690 pounds/square inch has been measured)
  • They can prey on everything from small fish to large mammals, including humans
  • They lay up to 60 eggs at one time, only 1 or 2 make it into adulthood
  • They can live over 70 years
  • They can stay under water for hours. Recent research shows that dives have been recorded with a duration of up 7 hours!!!!
  • They have about 64 teeth. When they lose teeth they regrow them quickly. During their lifetime they can grow thousands of teeth!
  • The Australian population of saltwater crocodiles is estimated to be 100,000-200,000 individuals

Head to Photographing dangerous subjects – part 2: Red-bellied Black Snake!

If you are interested in purchasing ‘Saltwater Crocodile Close Up’ or would like to see what it looks like on the various products, please head to my shop.

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