An alligator has muscled its way into the mix on one North Carolina beach, and local police are supporting the reptile's right to have a little summer fun.
The Oak Island Police Department posted a statement Tuesday, urging human beachgoers to mind their own business in the presence of alligators. The island is south of Wilmington, on the Intracoastal Waterway.
"Leave them alone! We will not remove them just because you are concerned," the department wrote on Facebook.
"Do not pet them. Do not take selfies with them. Do not feed them. Do not ride them. Do not try to move them."
Police officials said they posted the reminder after "receiving quite a few 911 calls about our reptilian friends."
Multiple gator sightings have been posted this week on an Oak Island community page, along with a video of one playing in the surf. It's believed to be one extremely mobile alligator, rather than multiple gators.
"For those who have not had the opportunity to see that yes, alligators do swim in the ocean. Not very often," Maureen Grasso wrote on Facebook. "This one was spotted at 69th Street. ... It is heading west."
At least one incident of alligator harassment has been reported. Amy Y. Taira said a solitary alligator was "sunbathing on the shore" when someone in a group of 20 people began throwing sand at it, she wrote on Facebook.
"He finally waded into the water and wasn't seen again," she wrote. "Don't know how you feel about it, but I was enraged. Leave the gator alone is my thought, steer clear and be smart. ... But don't disturb him."
Responses to the sightings have ranged from broad support for the alligator to surprise that police actually had to tell people not to pet it. There was also an element of surprise, given how rarely alligators are seen in the ocean off North Carolina.
"In 16 years at OKI (Oak Island) I have never seen an alligator!" a woman wrote.
"I find it completely, totally inconceivable that a police department, or, for that matter, anyone has to actually post something like this to remind people to 'Leave them alone.' ... Darwin's theories might be gaining a foothold," one man said.
Photos show the sightings involved a young gator, at around 4 feet in length. American alligators can grow to 13 feet and weigh up to 500 pounds in North Carolina, the state says.