(CNN) – A diver searching for prehistoric shark teeth in Florida’s Myakka River is recovering after a crocodile bit him on the back of the neck.
Jeffrey Heim suffered a skull fracture in the attack, which occurred last Sunday in Sarasota County. It took 34 stitches to close the wound. He also suffered hand injuries from the crocodile bite.
The 25-year-old Tampa man thought he had been hit by a ship’s propeller until he saw the alligator looking at him.
“It felt very heavy and it really seemed like it was moving very fast,” Heim told CNN. “It felt forceful, like a forceful force. I didn’t feel the cut, I felt a pull.
Heim says that he had dived in the river several times before and that he had entered the water in a public place near a restaurant.
Heim spent about 10 minutes searching the water for crocodiles while putting on his wetsuit, but saw nothing before he got into the water.
What happened before and after the crocodile bite?
He was free-diving, out of bottles, so he took a deep breath and dove, hoping to find megalodon teeth in the gravel at the bottom of the river.
Heim was underwater for about 45 seconds when the crocodile attacked him.
After the first few bites, Heim says he was able to backtrack and climb back up to the riverbank when the crocodile pounced on him.
He says a former firefighter at the restaurant pulled out a first aid kit and bandaged his head while others called 911.
“I was very lucky to be in a public place and that there were people I could call,” he said.
Heim says he was feeling very tired and just wanted to go to sleep after the bite. But he was afraid of dying.
He adds that he joked and played down what happened when he got to the hospital. However, he had “a very religious and emotional moment” when he was about to have a CT scan, when he realized how lucky he was to survive.
“The situation came over me emotionally,” he commented. “That day I cried a lot for an hour or two. I couldn’t stop crying and I was thanking God.
He spent a day and a half in the hospital and says the swelling has gone down a lot. Keep taking antibiotics to fight the infection.
Crocodiles most active in April
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) says that alligators become most active when they begin their courtship activities in April and when temperatures warm.
“I was probably too comfortable diving during mating season,” Heim said. “I should have known”.
Despite the severity of his injuries, Heim says he hopes the crocodile doesn’t die. He blamed the attack on an identity mistake.
FWC officials and a crocodile hunter were dispatched to investigate the incident, an agency spokesperson told CNN in an email.
One of the crocodiles, a 6-foot-tall female, was removed from the area and the hunter is working to remove another nearby crocodile, the spokesman said.
Captured crocodiles become the property of the hunter and are often processed for their meat and skin, but are sometimes sold to animal shows or zoos.
Attacks on humans
The FWC estimates that there are about 1.3 million alligators in Florida, and that the reptiles can be found in all 67 counties.
The agency said there were 12 crocodile attacks on humans in 2020. The last deadly attack occurred in 2019.
Heim says that diving for fossils is his way of relaxing, and that much of what he finds goes into his collection. She turns some of the teeth into jewelry, which she sells. He says he donates part of the proceeds to promote shark conservation.
Heim indicates that he plans to continue diving when he recovers, but will stay away from the Myakka River.