Everglades City, Fla.- FWC officers say a man whose hand was ripped off by the jaws of an alligator may have provoked the reptile.
Tuesday afternoon, 63-year old Wally Weatherholt's left hand was severed while the airboat captain was taking a group out on a tour of the Everglades.
The 9-foot gator was euthanized and dissected on the docks of Weatherholt's employer, Captain Doug's Airboat Tours, which is located off State Road 29 in Everglades City. Doctors at Naples Community Hospital attempted to reattach Weatherholt's hand, but their efforts were unsuccessful. WINK News has learned Weatherholt was stabilized at NCH and transferred to a Tampa hospital for further treatment.
FWC officers are now launching a criminal investigation into the incident. A total of six people were on board the boat during the attack. Officers are interviewing witnesses and Weatherholt, to determine whether the captain taunted the alligator before the attack.
Photos and YouTube videos posted by people claiming to be former patrons of Captain Doug's show tour guides tapping alligators heads and feeding the reptiles. FWC says they've investigated the facility in the past for similar allegations. They say the risky and illegal acts are motivated by money.
"The more flamboyant you are, the more aggressive you are in getting an alligator to come close to the boat, the more tips youre going to end up getting," FWC Officer George Pino said Wednesday.
WINK News talked to Captain Doug's Manager Glenn Smith about the allegations of tampering with wildlife. Smith said safety is always a top priority, and boat captains know taunting alligators is against the law.
"They all know it's illegal to feed or molest wildlife. That's all I can say," Smith said Wednesday.
If Weatherholt is charged in the criminal investigation, he faces fines and up to 6 months in jail.