During my field seasons I have given undergrads from my lab at UCLA to come with me and help me obtain my samples. During this time they have met some of the “Big Wigs” in crocodilian research and environments, learned more about parasitology, and of course– get a crack at alligator catching. Everything went absolutely smoothly in Florida. Both of my undergrads caught hatchlings like pros, and then helped out catching a 6 and 8.5 footer. It was awesome! Then we come to Louisiana to collect more samples. I of course wanted to give them more hands on experience on gator catching. So we headed over to Texas with a collaborator of mine to stomach flush some gators for nematodes. As we were with two newbies, I didn’t want to catch anything bigger than a 7 footer. Well, it didn’t go that way- our first gator was 9.5 feet! And since there was 4 of us on a small boat, it seemed crowded. I snared the gator, and when I pulled back I slipped on something on the boat. I lost my ground and with the gator going wild and pulling since I snared it, next thing I know I’m at the edge of the boat with my eyes peering into the snapping jaws of a pissed off gator. I knew I was fine and I let go slack of the snare, but I could here everyone in the boat yelling. I looked back and one of my undergrads froze- I don’t think she was expecting to see her PI (Principle Investigator) get chomped on by a gator. Everything happened so quickly, but I was fine. But that one student was a deer in the headlights for the rest of the night. It didn’t help either that the next gator we caught almost took my collaborator off the boat. As he was pulling the fishing rod to get the gator, the wire broke. From the force of pulling back and when the wire snapped, I just see my collaborator fly back and I’m thinking “He’s going into the water!” I then see one of my students grab him, and it appeared he got pulled back into the boat. I look at my other student… at that moment I realized the “deer in the headlights” look and feeling was not going to go away for the rest of the night.
When we got back to the hotel from our interesting, and needless to say, exciting night out in the Texas marsh, I began recapping the night with the undergrads. Well, at least they have some great stories to tell when they get back home!