SALT LAKE CITY — Following a two-day investigation, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has determined claims that an out-of-state fisherman hooked an alligator on Utah Lake were faked.
In a story published Wednesday by the Salt Lake Tribune under the headline, “How did an alligator end up in Utah Lake?” an individual asking to be identified only by the name "Neal" spun a tale of hooking the 4-foot-long gator while fishing with "hard-boiled eggs wrapped in bacon," then nabbing the animal in a cooler and releasing it into a pond on a relative's property in Provo.
After extensive efforts to verify the claim, the DWR is calling the claim a crock.
"We will continue to investigate any possible leads, but based on what's transpired so far, it appears an alligator was not caught in Utah Lake and a report that one was caught there is a hoax," said DWR spokesman Mark Hadley.
The story, along with a photo of an alligator, came to the Tribune by email and were later provided by the paper to DWR, Hadley said. He noted that the image file of the alligator contained no metadata, which was "a red flag."
While the alligator may have been imagined, the story prompted a real investigation. Efforts to contact the alleged angler or his purported Provo relatives were unsuccessful, Hadley said, and no gator was ever located.
Investigators did turn up one interesting detail, however: An individual using the same name and email address had made a similar claim to a news outlet in Iowa, Hadley said.
It's not the first time someone has tried to share fishy claims about Utah's aquatic life, Hadley said, noting that last week a fictitious report was shared online claiming bull sharks had been illegally introduced into Pineview Reservoir and advising against swimming there.
A small alligator actually was pulled from the Jordan River in 2003, believed to be an unwanted pet that was dumped.
The Tribune's Wednesday article eventually evolved to say the DWR was investigating the alligator claim, and later included an editor's note informing its readers that no alligator had been located.
Tribune Editor Jennifer Napier-Pearce could not be reached for comment.
An additional story — which reported that the story from the fisherman, now identified as Neal Bartlett, was likely false — was published by the Tribune Thursday night. The story included a message from Napier-Pearce, saying, "The newspaper's strict reporting and editing protocols for verifying the story prior to web publication were not followed."
The Deseret News declined to publish a story after DWR reported it had not confirmed an alligator had been caught and the existence of the supposed Provo residents named in the story could not be verified. One name, Max Powers, was similar to a name TV character Homer Simpson changed his name to — Max Power — in an episode of "The Simpsons."