Alligator Carcasses Aid in Mapping Ocean Floors

10:11 March 19, 2019
By: Diarra English

Craig McClain, a marine biologist and executive director of the Louisiana University Marine Consortium in Cocodrie, is plunging adult alligator carcasses into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico in an effort to discover what life forms live beneath the surface. Each carcass ranged from 7-8 feet long and was accompanied by a camera to track whatever deep sea creatures may feast upon the unusually large meal at on the ocean floor. 

Within hours, giant deep-sea isopods began to gnaw on the armpits and abdomen of the alligator carcasses. Giant deep-sea isopods look like a magnified foot-long version of a pill-bug and become creepier when you flip them on their back to reveal their 14 legs and beady eyes. These nightmarish-looking creatures usually have to go months or even years without food because of how little nourishment makes it all the way down to the ocean floor. 

“Once a hole was opened, we observed giant isopods actually going inside the alligator,” McClain said. 

In the next year or two, McClain plans to return to the carcasses to see what other deep-sea scavengers like bone-eating worms and snails have feasted on the alligators. The findings from McClain’s research could help us discover what exactly is on our ocean floor. More than 80% of it is still unmapped, but recent initiatives are slowly bringing that number down. With more research like McClain’s we will get a better idea of our ocean and how we can better serve it. 

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