A Gator Ate My Camera

Extreme Close-Ups in the Everglades

A Gator Ate My Camera

Disclaimer: We don’t recommend you go face-to-face with a gator and can’t guarantee your memory card will survive if it ends up in a swamp. We’ve tested our SanDisk SD™ memory cards (up to 64GB) to withstand up to 72 hours in one-meter salt or fresh water (with the product being clean and dry before use). The following story is incredible, but untested.

© Mario Aldecoa

I work at the Everglades Alligator Farm, and I always wanted to capture a long, wide exposure of alligators’ eyes glowing in the pond at night. On December 12, 2012 the annual holiday party presented the perfect opportunity. Or so I thought.

© Mario Aldecoa

I gathered my tripod, camera, wide-angle lens and a co-worker to back me up. After years of working with dangerous reptiles such as venomous snakes, crocodiles and alligators, I figured the shoot would be quite easy — I didn’t even have to interact with the gators.

My back-up and I entered through the gates on the dark, moonless night. We could immediately see the bright eyes of several alligators with our flashlights. Wanting to give a ground perspective, I set up my tripod about a foot from the water’s edge. As I was setting up the camera’s exposure alligators began creeping up closer. Assessing the surroundings, I was confident the alligators were calm and did not have a feeding response.

So I began taking some images, using a flash to illuminate the eyes and foreground, while allowing for a long exposure to catch some movement. I was becoming confident that the next image might be the one. I fired the shot and the flash went off — just as a large alligator lunged and grabbed the lens of the camera.

© Mario Aldecoa

I jumped backwards but also managed to grab a tripod leg. The gator began to pull me in as I clutched the tripod. With one powerful swipe of its head, the gator ripped its prize out of my hands and sank away into the dark water.

© Mario Aldecoa

I was left stunned and a bit in shock. A mere seconds and I lost over $1,300 of gear! (Not to mention I could have been the one in the gator’s jaws.) The next couple of days I reflected and accepted my loss realizing my camera gear was gone forever.

Fast forward to August 16, 2013. While conducting an alligator feeding in the breeding pond, a keeper notices something funny around the foot of an alligator. On closer inspection he realizes it’s a camera. And not just any tourist camera — my camera!

© Mario Aldecoa

Eight months submerged in the breeding pond, but there it was. I could see bite marks on the lens and body. Mud had made its way into every crevice. I popped open the memory card slot and took out the SanDisk card. We cleaned it up and let it dry for a day. To my surprise, I popped it in the card reader and it worked! I was able to view all the images I took on that fateful night. I can now say I know firsthand that SanDisk Extreme cards aren’t called extreme for nothing.

© Chris Gillette

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Mario Aldecoa

Mario Aldecoa is a wildlife photographer born and raised in Miami, FL. He’s been featured on Animal Planet’s Miami Animal Police while capturing exotic animals in the Everglades.
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