Wildlife researchers conducting a study of whales in the North Atlantic were shocked when they spotted an alligator ... 20 miles out to sea.

The team from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources had sailed out to monitor the movement of right whales when they saw what they initially thought was a tire.

But as they got closer they realized the object floating in the waters roamed by whales was in fact a freshwater alligator -- that was very much alive and snapping.

They think the 5-foot-long reptile (pictured), which is more used to sitting on the banks of a marsh than battling surf, had been washed out to sea from the mouth of the Altamaha River during heavy rains.

While alligators are common in the estuarine waters along the Georgia coast, experts say it is unprecedented to find one so far out and that his being there was almost certainly unintentional.

As the researchers took a few snaps (sorry) they noticed that the gator was making the most of a bad situation and was still diving for marine fish to snack on -- though this would normally be supplemented by raccoons and feral hogs which were safely inland.

However the team were unable to rescue the alligator and take him back home, "Considering that we were an in inflatable boat 20 miles offshore, we didn't want to risk having the gator inadvertently puncture the boat," said whale observer Heather Foley. Wise move, scientist.