A 25-year-old Florida man is recovering after being attacked by an alligator while he was searching for prehistoric shark teeth in a river last weekend.
Tampa resident Jeffrey Heim was searching for megalodon shark teeth in the Myakka River and was only in the water for a few minutes when he was hit with such force that he thought it was a boat, he told NBC News.
“I thought it was a propeller, it hit me so hard,” Heim said. "I realized I was inside it's mouth and if the alligator hadn't decided to let me go on its own, there was nothing I could have done to fight it."
He thinks the alligator that attacked him was about 9 feet long and likely a female, possibly looking to protect her eggs.
Last month, Florida wildlife experts warned people to take increased caution over the next couple of months as alligator mating season began in May and continues through the summer.
Following the attack, Heim was left with 34 stitches in his head, a minor skull fracture and bite marks on one of his hands, and because of swelling in his head, he is still unable to open his left eye. Doctors told Heim that he does not have any brain damage from the attack and is expected to make a full recovery.
Both his doctors and Heim agreed that his ability to come out on the other side of this attack alive and without more severe injuries is a miracle.
“If it would have got me anywhere else, it could have been a different story. The chance of me walking away from that is why it is a miracle,” said Heim.
Wildlife officials urge people in areas where alligators may be common to be careful and pay close attention when spending time around fresh or brackish water, according to NBC Tampa affiliate WFLA. Wildlife officials say people should only swim during daylight hours and within posted swimming areas and that children should be closely supervised.
Heim collects shark teeth as a hobby and has since turned his affinity for sharks into a business called SHRKco. Although he swears that he won't return to the river where the attack happened, Heim says he'll be back to diving for teeth as soon as he's able to do it again.
"After this, I definitely have a new respect for wild animals in their habitat. I don't hold the gator at fault, and I hope that if they are able to find it, that they let it live and don't kill it," Heim said.