An experiment to find out exactly what lifeforms are in the deep ocean came up with a surprising conclusion – there’s something down there that can eat an entire alligator and we don’t know what it is.
The ocean deeps are less well-explored than the surface of the Moon. To help change that, two Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium scientists took three alligator carcasses and dropped them to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, about a mile down.
“To explore the food web deep inside the sea, we placed three dead alligators at least 6,600 feet down in the Gulf of Mexico for 51 days,” said Clifton Nunnally from Louisiana University.
Why alligators? The researchers explained: “We have seen alligators and crocodiles utilising marine habitats more in recent years…so we decided to do this experiment to investigate the impact of a large reptile carcass on deep-sea food webs and large reptile carcasses as a potential carbon pathway to the deep.”
The first alligator was completely gone in less than a day. Underwater scavengers, such as giant sea snails, gobbled it up much more quickly than expected.
The second alligator carcass lated a little longer. After 51 days, the researchers pulled it up and found its bones had been picked completely clean.
“That one genuinely surprised us. There was not even a single scale or scute left on the carcass,” scientist Craig McClain told Atlas Obscura.
Eventually, the researchers worked out that a new kind of bone-eating worm in the Osedax family, previously unknown to science, had efficiently removed the alligator’s flesh from its bones.
But it was the third alligator that provided the biggest shock. Something picked up the alligator carcass and carried it off, leaving nothing but a shallow depression in the ocean floor. The weight that they’d used to weigh the carcass down was found around 10 yards away.
McClain theorised that it was probably either a very large shark or a giant squid.
But any shark or squid big enough to carry off an alligator weighing the better part of half a ton could be an entirely new species.
“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,” McClain told News18.