Alligatorzillacaught — by camera :Author snaps photos of giant bull gatorseen by ferry operator on Bull's Island. By Chris Dixon

Wednesday,February22, 2006

Edition: FINAL,Section: NATION, Page A1

Armedwith only a digital camera, Bob Raynor sailed out to Bull's Islandlast Friday to hunt for Alligatorzilla.

Aided by gorgeoussunny weather, the 55-year-old author of the book "Exploring BullIsland" hiked north to Jack's Creek. There, he found a huge bullalligator that he had never seen in his many expeditions through theisland's swamps and forests.

Raynor said hehad only become aware of Alligatorzilla when The Post and Courier ranan article citing Bull's Island Ferry operator Chris Crolley'sassertion that the reptile might be a state record. While a Januaryexcursion yielded no Alligatorzilla, Crolley bravely slogged out tostake a four-foot measuring stick into the ground on the bank wherethe animal typically soaks in the sun.

"I went up on theberm," Raynor said, "and looked straight across the water at a biggator. I thought that was him, but at that point, I looked over tothe right and saw the real one. There was no doubt."

Raynor then firedoff a number of pictures of the mammoth reptile and settled down forlunch. A poorly swallowed piece of sandwich led to a bout of loudcoughing that temporarily sent the animal into the water. But whenAlligatorzilla returned, Raynor realized that the beast was right byCrolley's stick. So he shot some more photos.

Arriving home,Raynor zoomed in on his images with his computer with hopes ofmeasuring the gator. While he agreed that his methods wereunscientific, a cut and paste operation provided an estimate of asmuch as 17 feet long. Not only would this be a state record, but itwould put Alligatorzilla close to the national record, a 19-foot2-inch monster killed decades ago in Louisiana.

Photos weree-mailed to Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge manager Matt Connolly andstate Department of Natural Resources biologist Tom Murphy onTuesday. Connolly said the brute was enormous and might be as long as15 feet. Murphy agreed Alligatorzilla was impressive, but said hethought the 13-foot range was the limit.

Murphy added thatthe smiling reptile's disproportionately large head meant that he wasa decades old survivor of Hurricane Hugo and was likely theundisputed king of Bull's Island. "But using the measurements on thestick," he said, "it just comes out too long for what the animallooks like."

Crolley has takenhis share of good-natured ribbing for his wild-eyed estimates ofAlligatorzilla's size. But in thousands of trips to the island, hesaid he has never seen a larger gator and he felt somewhat vindicatedwith Raynor's photos. "I thought that maybe instead of a stick in theground, I'd hang a 20-foot piece of line or flagging in the treesabove him," he said. "But now that the weather's getting warmer, I'mnot real anxious to wade through his native habitat."

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