Infamous Australian Saltwater Crocodile (Saltie)

Australian Animals - Salties in Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park, Broome

Saltwater crocodiles, also known as “salties” or estuarine crocodiles, are the largest living reptiles in the world. These crocodiles can grow up to 7 meters and are commonly found in Northern Australia. However, female crocodiles are significantly smaller than males and typically reach an average length of around 3 meters.

Salties are often referred to as “living fossils” because they have remained relatively unchanged for over 100 million years. These creatures possess extremely powerful jaws, making them apex predators known to attack and kill humans who venture too close to their habitat..

Opportunistic predators

Saltwater crocodiles are often referred to as “opportunistic predators” because they patiently wait under the water for an opportunity to strike. These crocodiles tire quickly due to the buildup of lactic acid in their bodies, which can cause them to rest until their pH levels return to normal. This trait is one reason why salties often choose to attack prey that is unaware of their presence, making them even more dangerous.

Saltwater crocodiles are great hunters and will attempt to catch any prey they can, including kangaroos, wild pigs, turtles, and even water buffalo. Using their powerful tails, they quickly propel themselves out of the water and snap their jaws around their prey.

After securing their victim, they drag it back into the water and hold it underwater until it drowns. This hunting method is one of the reasons why saltwater crocodiles are such successful predators and have earned their reputation as one of the most dangerous creatures in their habitat.

Death Roll

In addition to their patient hunting way, saltwater crocodiles are also known for their infamous “death roll” technique. This behavior is primarily used when hunting larger prey. After dragging their victim into the water, the crocodile rapidly spins and rolls, which can disorient the prey.

This maneuver can also help the crocodile to tear off limbs or smaller pieces of flesh that are easier to swallow. Interestingly, crocodiles prefer to tear their prey rather than using their teeth to chew.

Their teeth are not designed for grinding, but rather for gripping and holding onto their prey. This is another reason why they are such effective hunters, as they can quickly and efficiently consume their food. Overall, the saltwater crocodile’s hunting and feeding behaviors are fascinating, yet also incredibly dangerous.

Corroboree Billabong - Saltie

History of crocodile hunting

Following World War II, the availability of guns led to the commercial hunting of saltwater crocodiles for their skin. This activity quickly became highly profitable, and crocodile numbers began to drastically decline.

As hunting became more efficient, some people also began to view it as a sport. In 1950, the Australian Crocodile Shooters Club was founded, and wealthy tourists could travel to North Queensland to experience crocodile hunting for themselves.

The development of new roads in Northern Australia also provided easier access to previously unreachable areas, making it easier for hunters to track down and kill crocodiles.

To further increase their chances of success, hunters developed new techniques, such as using spotlights to hunt at night. Despite efforts to regulate and control hunting activities, the saltwater crocodile population continued to decline until the species was protected by law in the 1970s.

Today, the population has largely recovered, but hunting remains a controversial issue.

Protection of Saltwater Crocodiles and crocodile farms

It wasn’t until the 1970s that serious efforts were made to protect the declining saltwater crocodile population.

Queensland was the last Australian state to proclaim crocodile protection, passing laws in 1974. In the years that followed, crocodile farms were established to help support the population.

Each year, crocodile eggs laid in the wild are collected and hatched in these farms. However, collecting crocodile eggs is a challenging and dangerous task. If the eggs are turned or jolted, the embryo inside will die.

Similarly, if the temperature inside the nest rises above 35 degrees, the eggs will not hatch. This makes it incredibly difficult to collect and transport the eggs to the safety of the crocodile farms.

Since the introduction of full protection for crocodiles, their population has rebounded significantly. Today, scientists estimate that there are between 100,000 to 200,000 adult saltwater crocodiles living in Australia.

These reptiles can be found throughout Northern Australia, from Broome in Western Australia, through the entire Northern Territory, and up to Rockhampton in Queensland.

While saltwater crocodiles remain a protected species in Australia, there are instances where they may come into contact with humans. In such cases, authorities may choose to relocate the crocodile to a crocodile farm, where it can serve as a local attraction, much like “Cranky” in Broome.

Saltwater Crocodile mating season

Saltwater crocodiles mate during the wet season, typically between December and March. Females will lay around 50 eggs in an especially built nest made of warm, moist soil. The female will protect her nest until the arrival of the cooler, dry season, at which point she will abandon it.

The sex of the crocodile is determined by the temperature at which the eggs are incubated. A temperature of 32 degrees Celsius and 99% humidity will result in male crocodiles, while a temperature of 31 or 33 degrees Celsius will result in the development of females.

This unique feature of crocodile reproduction has implications for the survival of the species, as changes in temperature could potentially change the sex ratio of hatchlings and impact the long-term viability of the population.

What attracts saltwater crocodiles?

Splashing attracts crocodiles and most fatal attacks occur when people are swimming. Crocs are excited by the vibration of the water. We were told that they can also sense the beating of the human heart. 

Adelaide River Saltwater Crocodile

List of saltwater crocodile attacks in Australia

Below is a quick summary of crocodile attacks that could be avoided. This was done based on incidents collected by Crock-bite WORLDWIDE CROCODILIAN ATTACK DATABASE website.

YearAttack Description
199348 years old man was attacked and killed while swimming in the Jardine River (Cape York). Ferry broke down and it is believed that a man was swimming to help fix it.
1996A man was attacked by a 3 meters long crocodile while sleeping on the beach. Crocodile walked out of the water, grabbed him by his foot and started to drag him to the water. Man was able to kick the crocodile and free himself.
2001A 36-year-old man was sleeping in his tent at Lakefield NP when in the middle of the night he woke up and found a saltwater crocodile ‘lying’ on top of him! Crocodile tried to drag him into the river. Friend of the victim attacked the crocodile with the crossbow and the crocodile escaped to the river.
20022years old German tourist was killed while swimming in the evening in Sandy Billabong near Muirella Campground.
200322-year-old male and his two friends were riding quad bikes. They stopped to have a swim at Finniss River and the man was taken by a strong current and immediately attacked and killed by a crocodile. His friends were able to climb a nearby tree.
200418-year-old male was attacked by a crocodile while washing his face in the river near Cairns.
200560-year-old man and his wife were canoeing on Normanton River when a crocodile capsized their canoe. His wife was able to swim safely to shore, but the man was taken by a crocodile.
200727-year-old male was attacked and injured while swimming at Ivanhoe Crossing Near Kununurra.
200862 years old man was checking crab pots near Cooktown when he was killed by a 4.5-meter long crocodile. The crocodile was captured and the victim’s wedding ring was found in his stomach. The crocodile was later transferred to a crocodile farm.
200920-year-old man was attacked and killed when he was swimming across the 61 meters wide Daly River known for the big number of crocodiles living there.
201045-year-old fisherman was attacked when he was diving for sea cucumbers in Arnhem Land north from Kakadu NP. He was saved by his friend who pulled him into the boat.
2011A woman was attacked by a crocodile while snorkelling at Berry Springs near Darwin.
201149-year-old man was attacked and killed by a large saltwater crocodile while spear-fishing close to Cape York.
201159-year-old man in Broome was attacked by a 2.5-meter crocodile that launched itself to the boat and bit a man in the chest. The man was able to hit the crocodile in the throat with his elbow. Crocodile released him and returned to the water.
201326-year-old male was attending a birthday party near the Mary River Wilderness Retreat when he decided to swim to the opposite side of the river. He managed to do it with no problem, but on return run he was attacked and killed by a 4.7-meter long crocodile.
201420-year-old hunter was attacked by a crocodile when he was retrieving a goose that he shot in the wetland. Man gouged the crocodile’s eyes and escaped.
201412-year-old boy was killed while swimming in a billabong in Kakadu National Park by a 2.2 m saltwater crocodile.
201462-year-old man was standing in his boat on the South Alligator River in Kakadu National Park. Suddenly the boat was destabilized and a crocodile emerged from the water. Crocodile grabbed the man by his shoulder and flipped him to the water. Man’s remains were found the next day guarded by a 4.5-meter long crocodile.
201575-year-old man was bitten by a 1.2-meter crocodile while he was playing golf in Port Douglas.
201747-year-old male was attacked and killed when he was walking across the infamous Cahills Crossing. His body was found 2 km downstream from the crossing.

Saltwater Crocodile – Safety Rules

  • always read warning signs
  • don’t leave food or bait in areas inhabited by crocs
  • stand back from the water while fishing
  • don’t clean fish at the water’s edge
  • avoid hanging arms or legs over the side of a boat
  • don’t swim in water where crocodiles may be present
  • apart its very dangerous it’s also illegal to come to crocodile closer than 10 meter
  • set camp at least 50 meters from the water edge 

Interesting facts about saltwater crocodiles

  • Largest living reptiles: Saltwater crocodiles are the largest living reptiles in the world, with males capable of reaching lengths of up to 7 meters and weighing over 1,000 kilograms.
  • Powerful jaws: Crocodiles have incredibly strong jaws, capable of exerting a bite force of up to 3,000 pounds per square inch, making them one of the strongest biters in the animal kingdom.
  • Opportunistic predators: Salties are called opportunistic predators because they stay calmly under the water and wait for an opportunity to attack.
  • Death roll: Saltwater crocodiles use a hunting behavior called the “death roll” on larger prey. After dragging the prey to the water, the crocodile rapidly rolls in order to disorient its victim and remove its limbs.
  • Living fossils: Saltwater crocodiles are often called “living fossils” because they have remained virtually unchanged for 100 million years.
  • Adapted for aquatic life: Crocodiles have several adaptations that enable them to live in aquatic environments, including nictitating membranes that protect their eyes while swimming, webbed feet for improved swimming, and a valve in their throat that allows them to breathe while underwater.
  • Endangered species: Saltwater crocodiles were once hunted to near extinction for their valuable skins, but today they are a protected species. Despite their rebounding population, they are still listed as a vulnerable species due to habitat loss and other threats.
  • Long lifespan: Saltwater crocodiles can live for over 70 years in the wild.
  • Impressive speed: Despite their large size, saltwater crocodiles are capable of surprising bursts of speed, with some individuals capable of reaching speeds of up to 25 km per hour.
  • Apex predators: As apex predators, saltwater crocodiles have few natural predators, although they may occasionally be preyed upon by large sharks, such as tiger sharks and bull sharks.
  • Warm-blooded: Unlike most reptiles, saltwater crocodiles are partially warm-blooded, meaning they can regulate their body temperature to some extent.
  • Territorial: Saltwater crocodiles are highly territorial and will defend their territory from other crocodiles, especially during breeding season.
  • Vocalizations: Saltwater crocodiles are capable of a variety of vocalizations, including hissing, bellowing, and growling.
  • Long-range migration: Saltwater crocodiles are capable of long-range migration, with some individuals known to travel over 1,000 kilometers between freshwater and saltwater habitats.
  • Cultural significance: Saltwater crocodiles hold cultural significance for many indigenous cultures throughout Australia and Southeast Asia, where they are revered as powerful and sacred animals.

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