The Incredible Things That Happen When an Alligator Is Dumped into the Sea
Coastal Louisiana teems with alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) – more than a million of them. They sit, mouths agape, on riverbanks and roadsides; they’re crushed by cars; they swim in canals and bask in the sun on nearby barrier islands.
Craig McClain, a tall, bald, and bearded marine biologist leads a coastal research institute called the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, or LUMCON, that explores life at the interface of land and sea. McClain studies how living things get food at the bottom of the ocean. LUMCON’s main building hovers over the wetlands on big concrete pilings, driven deep into the muck.
McClain can look out the window at work and sometimes see alligators swim by. He wondered: what happens when they die? If they died at sea, or were washed out, might they provide food to the strange things that dwell in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico? Are they an important part of deep-sea energy cycles? He conjured up a plan to find out, but to carry it out, he would need dead alligators.