Way back over Labor Day weekend, folks at The Standard Hotel told us they'd spotted a crocodile in high-traffic Biscayne Bay. We thought they were pulling our leg.
But it turns out there may be at least one croc who enjoys cruising the salty waters near Sunset Harbor, and he definitely has the right of way.
"I was sitting on the balcony, having coffee and looking at the water when we spotted him," Miami Beach resident Stefanie Voigt told The Huffington Post. "I thought, 'This cannot be an iguana!'"
It was last Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. Voigt, an underwater filmmaker, grabbed a camera and ran with her colleague Henrik Rosen down to the seawall on Purdy Avenue to get closer. In a CNN iReport where she first published photos, Voigt said they watched the croc they nicknamed "Rupert" swim around sailboats anchored in the bay for about 45 minutes.
Rosen said friends all agreed that Rupert was somewhere around 11 feet long. Curious to see how the croc would react, Rosen even jumped in the bay about 20-30 yards away, but his would-be new friend paid him no mind.
According to wildlife biologist Joe Wasilewski in the Associated Press, the American Crocodile "is a gentle animal, believe it or not. That's their nature. They're more fish eaters. They don't consider humans a prey source."
South Florida is the northernmost extreme of the American Croc's salty habitat, which stretches south to Ecuador and Venezuela, and our brackish waters are the only place on earth alligators and crocs co-exist. Recent croc interactions with Florida residents have been largely confined to the Florida Keys, the Everglades, and rural areas like Homestead.
"Now when I go around town, everybody is talking about Rupert, everybody has seen Rupert," Voigt said. "I don't think anyone's really seen a crocodile here the last 20 years or so. We would definitely not expect one."
Experts with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission consulted by HuffPost were fairly confident that the giant reptile was a crocodile, but couldn't be certain without more detailed photographs.
When Voigt and Rosen called in their sighting last week, the FWC responder told them Miami Beach used to be a more fertile crocodile habitat in its swampier days, and therefore they were Rupert's guests -- not the other way around. After seeing Rupert nearly get hit by a boat as he left the safety of the harbor, Voigt hopes that boaters will slow down to avoid injuring South Beach's newest celebrity resident.
As Rosen rightly pointed out, "There's all sorts of things floating out there."
How do you tell the difference between an alligator and a crocodile? FWC explains it all: