Lake Michigan Kayaker Paddles Closer To Toy Alligator, Then Realizes It’s Real

Lake Michigan is a gorgeous freshwater lake that spans the entire west cost of Michigan. It’s the only one of the five Great Lakes to be completely within the United States, and contains 22,300 square miles of surface area.

The lake has played an important role in the shipping industry for centuries, and it’s teeming with a variety of wildlife.

A kayaker who was fishing for salmon in Waukegan Harbor in Illinois — located just north of Chicago — got the surprise of a lifetime when he spotted a creature not native to the lake hovering near its surface: an American alligator.

Photo: YouTube/CBS Chicago

When David Castaneda first saw the alligator, he actually assumed it was a dead salmon, as it was very close to the surface. Then he thought maybe it was a toy.

But something didn’t seem right.

“I went closer to see if it was real,” he told Lake Country News-Sun. “I was just in shock. I wasn’t sure if it was a real alligator or a toy.”

Then he saw the tail moving.

Photo: YouTube/CBS Chicago

Alarmed, as the animal seemed to be in distress, he phoned 911, not knowing who else to call.

Castaneda was told to circle the alligator to keep an eye on it until help arrived.

Photo: YouTube/CBS Chicago

Worried, Castaneda ended up gently snagging one of the alligator’s back scales with a lure and towing it the roughly 100 feet to shore.

Waukegan’s Animal Control soon arrived and took the poor animal to the Wildlife Discovery Center in Lake Forest to recover. Rob Carmichael, the curator there, thinks the animal was likely obtained as a pet at first and then abandoned in Lake Michigan when the owner no longer wanted it. They don’t know how long it was stuck in the water with no way to feed or defend itself.

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Photo: Facebook/City of Waukegan

American alligators are native to the southern United States, and can be spotted as far east as North Carolina and as far west as the Rio Grande in Texas. They typically stick to calm, easy-flowing rivers, as well as swamps, marshes, and lakes.

They can’t survive for very long in water that’s as cold as Lake Michigan. They stop eating once the water they’re in dips to 70 degrees, and they actually become dormant once it reaches 55 degrees.

The temperature of Lake Michigan when the gator was found was around 60 degrees.

Photo: YouTube/CBS Chicago

Because his bound was mouth and he was dumped in such cold waters, it’s clear this alligator was being left for dead.

“I think people sometimes get these animals without really doing their homework. They have no idea what they’re in for,” Carmichael told CBS Chicago.

The City of Waukegan’s Facebook page posted about the incident, saying, “It is not every day someone reports an alligator in Lake Michigan and the report is true.”

Photo: YouTube/CBS Chicago

“He’s strong. He’s healthy. His infection is under control, and he’s acting exactly the way we like to see. He’s being very pampered,” Carmichael later told WGN in an update.

The alligator has a permanent home in the Wildlife Center now, and there are other gators there as well.

Photo: YouTube/CBS Chicago

The alligator has been named David in honor of his rescuer, David Castaneda.

Learn more about this gator’s rescue in this video!

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