Sweetheart, a large male Saltwater (Estuarine) Crocodile, is a legendary part of recent Northern Territory history.
In the 1970s, Sweetheart gained notoriety for attacking dinghies at a popular Darwin fishing spot. On at least two occasions the dinghy occupants were tipped into the water, although no one was hurt.
Early in 1979, the pattern of attacks changed and became more frequent. Safety concerns were raised and the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory decided to capture Sweetheart and relocate him to a local crocodile farm.
On the 19th of July 1979, Sweetheart was caught in a trap and anaesthetised, but in the attempt to haul his considerable bulk ashore, the animal became entangled with a sunken log and drowned. The body was presented to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, where the taxidermist prepared Sweetheart as a skin mount and also a skeleton, which is held in the museum’s collection.
MAGNT staff Graeme Gow (left) and Ian Archibald (right) finishing off the taxidermy of Sweetheart (August 1980).
The odd nickname, Sweetheart, has caused some confusion over his gender. It derives from the waterway that Sweetheart inhabited. He was the dominant male crocodile in Sweets Lookout billabong, a waterway located 55km south-west of Darwin, in the Finniss River system. Sweetheart’s extreme aggressiveness has been attributed to territorial behaviour, and the need to defend his particular section of the river from rival males. As most attacks seemed to target outboard motors, it is thought that engine noise may somehow have imitated the vocalisations of other males and triggered aggression.
Although a large mature male, Sweetheart is not the largest crocodile known. Estuarine (or Saltwater) crocodiles are distributed throughout India, South-east Asia, Papua New Guinea and islands of the western Pacific, as well as northern Australia, and specimens exceeding 6m in length have been recorded. They are long-lived animals and it is estimated that Sweetheart was probably over 50 years old.
While many rumours and exaggerations have accompanied the story of Sweetheart some relevant facts are:
Common name: Saltwater Crocodile or 'Estuarine' Crocodile
Scientific name: Crocodylus porosus
Total weight: 780 kg
Total length: 5.1 m
Snout-vent length: 2.4 m
Maximum girth: 2.3 m
Stomach contents: Pig bones and bristles, two Long-necked turtles and parts of a large barramundi