…I resumed scanning the beach to see where exactly the handful of three-metre plus saltwater crocodiles running around the beach were. How close were they were to Mark? What they were doing? Were they pre-occupied hunting flatback turtle hatchlings or were they paying Mark or me too much attention?
This was our nightly ritual in the pitch-black for weeks on end on Crab Island in Australia’s Torres Strait. Watching and filming crocs, sometimes just one, sometimes 10. Crocs to the left, to the right, sometimes they were so close Mark could smell their bad breathe. It wasn’t until the dawn light started to spill onto our beach and our intense night-shift was over that I found out what had caused Mark’s panic.
We were filming with Infra-red lights, positioned along one-hundred metres of beach. My job as Producer/Director apart from watching Mark’s back was when the infra-red lights started to go flat to change the batteries. These long, solo walks in the pitch black down the beach were my secret dread of every night. Inwardly my heart beating quickly, my senses on high-alert, my brain going ballistic. Outwardly I was trying to move as calmly, as stealthily as possible to not upset the crocs.
This particular night the clouds had come over making it very dark and as I walked towards one of the light-stands Mark had seen a crocodile run directly towards the same light-stand. He couldn’t see me. Was the croc after me? Mark was too far away to see, to do anything. If he came charging up the beach in the dark to my rescue not only would he have caused a potentially problematic situation but it would undo weeks of work we’d put into these crocs, getting them to accept us on their beach, allowing us to film their amazing land-hunting behaviour. The only choice for Mark was to stay put – at least until a cry for help came.
But luckily for me I didn’t see the croc and it pulled up to eat a turtle hatchling just short of the light-stand. The crisis of croc and human meeting at the bottom of the light-stand was adverted. The crocs were so obsessed by hoovering up as many of these bite-sized turtle snacks as possible that they seemed to have little interest in humans. In fact it appeared they would almost run over the top of you if it meant getting to a hatchling.
Amazingly, after filming these man-eating creatures for over five weeks, there was only one large croc on one night that we were worried about. He had Mark in his sights. We made a promise to each other if he was there the next night we would pull-out… but that’s another story…