Sunday, August 08, 2010

Australia's "monster" crocodile


This photograph has been doing the rounds lately. It purportedly shows a giant 6.5 metre (22 foot) saltwater crocodile that was shot in... well, there's the rub. There seems to be some disagreement about whether it was shot in Queensland, or the Northern Territory, and therefore who owns Australia's largest (dead) crocodile. This disagreement has spilled over into the international media, all of whom love a good story about giant crocodiles.

There's only one problem with all this. That crocodile is certainly not 6.5 metres long. Not even close. If you ask me, it's probably a little over 5 metres long. How do I know this? Well, all the clues are in the photo. First of all, that truck (a Toyota Landcruiser FJ40 series station wagon) is roughly the same length as the crocodile, give or take. It's hard to tell because the back of the crocodile's tail isn't in the shot. So how long is that truck? It's around 4.7 metres. Secondly, the photograph uses all the classic perspective tricks to fool the eye into emphasising the size of the crocodile - low to the ground, wide-angle lens, small child in the foreground, truck in the background (the distance could be several metres, further exaggerating the size of the crocodile). And if that wasn't enough, the crocodile is clearly starting to bloat from decomposition, making it look even larger. So if you add all this up, look at the size of the truck and where the crocodile is positioned in relation to it, considering how much of its tail is missing, it can't be much more than 5 metres long. That's around 17 feet at best. That's certainly a very impressive, very large crocodile, but it's nowhere near the size they're claiming, and it's certainly not the largest croc ever found in Australia.

Whoever wants this crocodile can have it. Not only is it not particularly noteworthy, it's probably a bit on the nose by now judging from the age of the photograph.

26 comments:

Brandon said...

Very sad....given time perhaps it could have become bigger. So typical of man to destroy something so magnificent.

Adam Britton said...

Brandon, I suspect this crocodile was shot a long time ago - possibly even prior to protection (in 1974 if it came from Queensland, 1971 if from the NT). Or it could have been a problem crocodile shot under license. But I don't really think its size is that spectacular anyway, and we know that big crocodiles get that way by growing quickly, not necessarily by being very old, so the size you see here is likely to have been not much smaller than its maximum possible size.

Brandon said...

oh yes, I had a brain lapse, I remember reading somewhere that a 27 year old crocodile was very large...I don't remember where. It may have been Yai the hybrid Saltie-Siamese croc in Thailand...but I don't remember for sure, I know those unnatural hybrids grow bigger. In Costa Rica they have a 22 year old Crocodylus acutus that's around 4 meters I think. Are you familiar with Aggro from the Adelaide River? 3 years ago I went on one of those river cruises (I steer clear now, it just seemed to "circus" like) and he seemed particularly large, even compared to the other large crocs.

dlal said...

Did this picture come to be an internet viral thing recently? It's the first time I'm seeing it! Also I'm thinking there's some Photoshop magic happening here! Who knows eh?

If anyone is interested in seeing some undoctered photos of real large estuarine crocodiles, visit George Craigs place on Green Island off Cairns. He has a pretty impressive collection of skulls and photos. Here are some pics I took on my recent visits. :) Enjoy!

http://www.porosus.net/greenisland/

Jason Amigo said...

Yep, it's a fake alright, the tip of the tail surpasses the truck just by a few inches. You know Dr. Britton, ever since I've read that article you posted about the largest crocodile ever recorded, I started to become skeptical about all those "big fish" stories out there...but that does raise another question...with all this talk going around about the "largest crocodile", was there any crocodile found after the 20'8 foot crocodile (measured by Rom Whitaker) that reaches close to 20 feet? Or 18 feet at least (not Cassius though, he's a given)? There seem to be some credible giants out there like Gustav, the Bullo giant, and the 23 footer in Orissa (although the latter one I believe is exaggerated).

Adam Britton said...

There are quite a few credible stories of crocodiles between 18-19' feet - they're very rare, but they do exist. In fact I saw the skull from an 18'6" crocodile a few days ago. I might post about it on the blog in fact. It's not the largest skull I've seen but it's clearly in the ballpark for an 18-19' crocodile and it's been verified as genuine. I haven't seen anything in the 19-20' range but with confirmed 20' examples it's clear that some must have existed. I just think that crocs of this size, regardless of what people will tell you about "the old days" were still exceptionally rare. If you're into statistics, let's just say they were a lot more than 2 standard deviations from the mean.

Jason Amigo said...

It's sad though Dr.Britton...those 18 footers are all dead...and the only live captive one is really old. Speaking of crocodile skulls, I was wondering one thing. What skull did you guys use for the template of the Animal Face-Off robo-salwatercroc? It certainly was big (the narrator said it was 40 inches long). Was it the Paris Museum Specimen?

Adam Britton said...

The guy who shot that 18'6" crocodile told me the other day that he should never have done it. That seems to be the reaction of a lot of people who look back at their trophy with hindsight. Life teaches us lessons, but it's amazing how many people want to (or need to) make the same mistakes.

The skull in Animal Face-Off? Well first of all the cast was scaled up, as they didn't have one of the sizes we were talking about. Did a decent job with it. However, it was actually a Nile crocodile skull - they used the same one for the saltie and Nile episodes. Problem is, the teeth didn't line up properly (they were not the original teeth) so predictably the jaws wouldn't actually shut correctly. A bit of post-cast modeling was required to fix this. Unfortunately it was too late to fix once I pointed this out, so we had to go with it. Fortunately they got a proper American alligator skull for that show later in the series. I'm sure they scaled that one up as well.

Jason Amigo said...

Ahh...thank you, Dr. Britton, that clears everything out now (No wonder the robo-croc lacked the two ridges on top of its snout...it was a Nile croc!)

Well, the up-side is, with the numbers of salties rising since their near extinction on the 70's there's a good chance that there is a giant out there. We just gotta find him! ;)

I Forgot my manners...didn't properly introduce myself. My name is Jason Amigo (as my username suggests) and I am a BIG fan of you and your work! Keep up the good work on your research. It was a pleasure to finally talk to you via email tonight! :D

Jason Amigo said...

About that 18'6 crocodile, is it this one in this picture http://images.smh.com.au/2009/02/28/400414/croc-420x0.jpg? Or is this croc a different croc? If so, what happened to this crocodile, said to be over 18'6 as well?

Adam Britton said...

Hi Jason,

That croc is 17'11" - I know, we have it here in Darwin, it's been measured accurately. Not sure why these stories need to add half a foot or more to these measurements. Although it's likely they measured it quickly in the field roughly and overestimated it.

So no, the skull I saw did not come from that crocodile. The croc in that photo is on display at Crocosaurus Cove in Darwin, still very much alive.

Jason Amigo said...

Well that's good news! That croc would be the croc called Choppa, I presume? A 17'11" croc would make him bigger than Gomek when he was first captured. That would make him a prime candidate to surpassing Cassius's title of largest saltie(I think Yai shouldn't be counted as being the largest, he's a bit of a cheat).

Ralf said...

Well Jason, I did see both Yai and Gomek several times and I am pretty sure that Yai is/ was bigger and certainly heavier than Gomek was.
I do totally agree with Adam and his suspections concerning the "Truck-croc"

Did you guys read Rom Whitakers paper on Giant Crocodiles at
http://madrascrocbank.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2009-02-17T16%3A42%3A00%2B05%3A30&max-results=7

Lachlan said...

The biggest crocodile ever shot was near Normanton, Queensland, Australia. In the Norman river It was shot in July 1958, it's nicmane is Krys after the person who shot it, it was 28 foot 4 inches there is a life size replica of it at Normanton it was 13 foot in girth. and there still are giant crocs around in a croc count a couple of years ago they sighted a crocodile that they estimated at 28 foot in a small creek near Normanton apparently its head was wider then the small dingy they where in

Adam Britton said...

Yai is certainly the largest crocodile in captivity, but as a hybrid that's fairly meaningless if you ask me.

Lachlan, I've never counted "Krys" because it's just a story - there's no evidence at all to back it up, and it just seems so far outside the maximum possible range for this species that I'd need some pretty solid evidence to believe it. That's why it never appears in any official statistics.

The minimum acceptable criteria for recording-breaking crocs should include a tape measure along their back, because "big fish" stories outnumber accurate estimates by several orders of magnitude.

Elena said...

Hi all!
Do you have some information about this? (8m. croc in Normanton)

http://www.news.com.au/weird-true-freaky/m-crocodile-lurks-in-river-in-normanton-pastor-says/story-e6frflri-1225959720599

It sounds a little bit exaggerated...

Cheers from Italy :)
elena

Adam Britton said...

I measured a 5.1 metre crocodile last month that had a back foot span nearly as large as that, so if I had to take a guess I'd say the one in that photo is perhaps 5.5 metres. I suppose it could be even larger, but 8 metres...? I doubt it. I'd love to see an 8 metre crocodile as much as the next guy, but I can't say I'm expecting any revelations.

Lachlan said...

Isn't there a photo of Krys, so how big would a croc if it's claw span was 25 cm and it's belly print was 2m wide

Elena said...

Thank you so much, Adam :)
cheers
elena

Daliah said...

"Yai is certainly the largest crocodile in captivity, but as a hybrid that's fairly meaningless if you ask me."

Brilliant view there Dr.Britton you have! If your parents come from differnt countries, then you are disqualified as human beings? I see no points why being hybrid makes Yai "meaningless" to the crocodile world...

Adam Britton said...

Daliah, you're putting words into my mouth I did not say. I did not claim that Yai was "meaningless to the crocodile world", far from it. Yai is a fascinating croc and I've spoken about him a lot since I first read about him in 1997.

What I was referring to, because context is really important, is that Yai being the largest crocodile in captivity is "meaningless" because he's a hybrid. We're talking about eligibility for a statistic where being a hybrid gives you an unfair advantage, because hybrids are known to grow faster and reach larger maximum size compared with wild "pure bred" species. Perhaps I could have worded it better. I wouldn't have used the word "meaningless" for a start, but it was a quick blog reply so sorry for any confusion.

G Stephen said...

“Krys the Savannah King” was shot in July, 1957 on the Macarthur Bank of the Norman River, Normanton, Queensland. It was asleep when 30 year old Krystina Pawlowski ended its life with a well-aimed shot just below the eye. It measured 8.6 metres (28.2 ft.) long with a girth of 4 metres (13 ft.) and stood 1.5 metres tall when walking! So far, this is the largest crocodile ever recorded.visit link: http://virtualcreationzoo.com/exhibits/reptiles/the-australian-saltwater-crocodile/

Adam Britton said...

Krys is not the largest crocodile ever recorded because nothing was ever recorded. It's a story from a crocodile hunter, albeit a well-respected one, but given that it's way outside the maximum known size (including skull size) by several standard deviations, it's statistically extraordinarily improbable. That doesn't necessarily mean it isn't true, but with no proof and no record it's impossible to differentiate it from any other "big fish" story told by any person who decides to create one. That's why witnessed measurements or strong physical or photographic records need to exist.

Daliah said...

Something to share. I just had a chance to visit the Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm near Bangkok where Yai was kept in captivity. Did not really see this giant because I arrived in the afternoon and according to the staffs there, the big ones tend to sunbath in the morning and hide into water in the afternoon.

That said, I have seen quite a few big crocs in the "Giant Croc Lake"(as they call it). A staff told me there are 3 or 4 crocodiles similar to Yai in size. I saw a particularly large one, and pointed at it to the staff, and she told me it was "tee soon", which means "#2" in Thai. Sadly as we were standing on the footpath that are 4 meters from the water, it was too difficult to estimate the size of this beast...but it was BIG.

Beside the living ones, there are also some huge dead ones mounted in a corner of the Farm. The largest among them were two huge hybrids(saltwater/siamese)and a false gharial. I borrowed a tape ruler and measured the largest - a hybrid --at 500~510 cm--a big croc (difficult to get an accurate measurement as it was not mounted very straight.)
In another corner of the Farm, there were several huge skulls preserved. Most of them were hybrids too. Despite displayed in the glass case, I painstakingly measured one at 86cm and another one 83cm. (From the snout to the end of the lower jaw. I know I should have measured to the end of the upper skull, sorry...) These are some of the largest croc skulls I have seen in person, only second to the one kept in Paris Museum.

Daliah said...

Something to share. I just had a chance to visit the Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm near Bangkok where Yai was kept in captivity. Did not really see this giant because I arrived in the afternoon and according to the staffs there, the big ones tend to sunbath in the morning and hide into water in the afternoon.

That said, I have seen quite a few big crocs in the "Giant Croc Lake"(as they call it). A staff told me there are 3 or 4 crocodiles similar to Yai in size. I saw a particularly large one, and pointed at it to the staff, and she told me it was "tee soon", which means "#2" in Thai. Sadly as we were standing on the footpath that are 4 meters from the water, it was too difficult to estimate the size of this beast...but it was BIG.

Beside the living ones, there are also some huge dead ones mounted in a corner of the Farm. The largest among them were two huge hybrids(saltwater/siamese)and a false gharial. I borrowed a tape ruler and measured the largest - a hybrid --at 500~510 cm--a big croc (difficult to get an accurate measurement as it was not mounted very straight.)
In another corner of the Farm, there were several huge skulls preserved. Most of them were hybrids too. Despite displayed in the glass case, I painstakingly measured one at 86cm and another one 83cm. (From the snout to the end of the lower jaw. I know I should have measured to the end of the upper skull, sorry...) These are some of the largest croc skulls I have seen in person, only second to the one kept in Paris Museum.

Daliah said...

Dr.Britton, have you ever heard about Bujang Senang? It was a big maneater crocodile that was shot in Malaysia in 90'. The length was claimed to be 19' 3". The skull of this crocodile was kept in Jong's Crocodile Farm in Sarawak, Malaysia and its size may be a good indication of the crocodile's real length.