The ocean amounts to 70 percent of the earth’s surface, and humans have only explored 5 percent of it all. The ocean carries deep secrets within and humans have forever been curious about it.
Craig McClain and Clifton Nunnally, research scientists from Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, carried out an experiment about a year ago, known as the Great Gator Experiment, to get deeper insights into the underwater food web.
The two scientists dropped a buffet for mysterious seafloor creatures which involved three dead alligators. They were curious as to how these dead State Reptiles of Louisiana would be consumed for their precious carbon by the creatures of the seafloor.
They dropped three alligators into the ocean from a ship, with weights tied to the dead reptiles. After sinking for roughly two kilometers in the Gulf of Mexico, the gators hit the floor and settled among the disturbed dust.
The first alligator was consumed within 24 hours of planting it. As soon as the researchers left the gator, it was welcomed by giant isopods, which according to Nunnally, are like deep-sea vultures. Joining the isopods in the feast were other scavengers like amphipods, grenadiers and some mysterious, unidentifiable black fish. The isopods ripped apart the reptile faster than expected and ate the alligator inside out.
The second gator was left for a longer period of time. When the scientist visited the second alligator after 51 days, all they found were parts of the gator’s skeleton, with a reddish hue left on the bones. “That one genuinely surprised us. There was not even a single scale or scute left on the carcass,” McClain told Atlas Obscura. When their curiosity hit saturation, the team sent it to Greg Rouse, a marine biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
The examination found that the gator was broken down to shackles of bone by a new species in the Osedax genus. Osedax are bone-eating worms. According to McClain, it was the first time that an Osedax member was found in the Gulf of Mexico. On comparing the DNA of the already known Osedax species, the team discovered a novel species of the genus.
Despite the surprising discovery of a new Osedax species, it was the third alligator that left the scientists the most boggled. When they visited the site where the third gator was dropped, what they could see was just a massive depression in the sand; the alligator vanished from the site. The team scoured the surrounding area but couldn’t locate even a trace of the gator. However, they did find the weight attached to the gator, which was about 10 meters away from the site.
The predator culprit that swept away the gator was huge enough to devour a whole alligator and drag the attached weight. The scientists suspect the creature to be either a giant squid or a massive shark waiting to be discovered. “I have yet to find a squid that could consume a whole alligator, and I don’t want to be on the ship if we ever discover it.”
The two scientists were shocked and equally satisfied with the experiment. They plan to do a whale fall next time.