ISLAMORADA -- Wildlife officers are investigating the death off Lower Matecumbe Key last weekend of the female crocodile known as Blue No. 9.
"At this point, it's kind of suspicious," Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Carli Segelson said Monday.
The 9-foot crocodile was found in the mangroves near the Boy Scout's Florida Sea Base. According to Islamorada real estate agent Tom Kavney, who was among those who found Blue No. 9, she was already bloated.
He said he didn't see any visible wounds but also didn't give the animal a close inspection.
"I just assume that somebody killed it, because it was a healthy animal," Kavney said.
FWC officials were much less direct in comments Monday, but did not rule out foul play.
Just three weeks ago, Blue No. 9 made headlines by nesting on the front edge of the southern Lower Matecumbe yard of Elaine and Peter Vlaun, a few feet from the roadway. Wildlife officials waited for Blue to lay her 27 eggs and then transported her, at the behest of Vlauns, to undeveloped bayside waters 4 miles north. The eggs were later found to be unviable.
Blue No. 9 had been known for years by residents of the Davis Shore subdivision, not far from where authorities relocated her that day. According to Chris Masters, who lives with Kavney in the neighborhood, residents there had even given the crocodile their own name of "Crocky."
That she had evidently traveled back to southern Lower Matecumbe, close to her nesting site, likely didn't come as a surprise to wildlife officers. The FWC has long said that relocating crocodiles can be a pointless exercise, since they often return to old stomping grounds.
The toothy reptiles inspire strong emotions among Florida Keys residents, who have had to deal with more frequent crocodile encounters in recent years as the animal's population has rebounded. The number of crocodiles in Florida has increased from less than 300 in 1975 to an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 now.
FWC Crocodile Response Coordinator Lindsey Hord has said that he deals with many people who want all crocodiles kept out of residential areas. But he also speaks with many who defend the right of crocodiles to reside unmolested in the Keys, which are part of their historic breeding grounds.
Crocodiles are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Killing a threatened species is punishable by up to six months imprisonment.