By Mark McConville
IS THIS photographer brave or stupid after shocking photos and video footage captured him swimming alongside a nine-foot-long American crocodile?
The incredible images show the diver swimming within a few feet of the 500lb predator, its huge teeth up close and personal and it grins for the camera and a look into its beady eye.
The crazy clip shows the photographer and friends perilously close to the croc as they swim together in the open ocean.
The remarkable encounter was captured in Jardines de la Reina, Cuba by apparel company owner Eldad Choen (42) from Los Angeles, USA, who wanted to do something unique for his birthday.
“I wanted to do something different for my Birthday so I called my friend Tim Yeo from Bluewater travel and join him on the Cuba trip he organized,” he said.
“Jardines de La Reina is one of the most pristine ecosystems in the world and It was a dream for me to dive there.
“We knew that there are American Salt water crocodiles there and we were hoping for a chance to get in the water with them.
“The local dive boats call these crocodiles Niño which mean Boy in Spanish. On the first day we thought there is only one Nino but turns there were like eight in the mangroves around us.”
American crocodiles are apex predators, and any aquatic or terrestrial animal they encounter in freshwater, riparian and coastal saltwater habitats is potential prey. Their only threat is the American alligator, which are seen killing and eating American crocodiles.
For a long time, primary prey throughout their lifetime was thought to be fish; due to the relatively narrow snout as indicative of this piscivorous preference. However new studies shed light into the dietary preference of this species.
The snout of the American crocodile is broader than some specialised fish-eating crocodilians freshwater crocodile, allowing it to supplement its diet with a wider variety of prey. In addition, the snout gets even broader and bulkier as the animal matures a sign for a shift in prey items.
Prey species have ranged in size from the insects taken by young American crocodiles to full-grown cattle taken by large adults, and can include various birds, mammals, turtles, crabs, snails, frogs, and occasionally carrion.
Eldad, who took these images with a Canon 7D Mark II, explained getting close to animals is crucial to getting good pictures but it does come with its dangers.
“The most important thing in underwater photography is to get closer to the animal,” he said.
“The closer you get the better chance you have for a great shot. I was lucky to spend six hours in the water with the crocodiles and that helped me perfect the shots.
“The first time I tried to get close the crocodile I got stuck in the mud of the mangroves. Luckily I managed to get out of there fast as the crocodile was coming towards me.”