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Fisherman catches alligator 'feeding frenzy' on video

By Phil Gast, CNN
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Alligator feeding frenzy caught on tape
  • Georgia fisherman's camera catches 300 alligators hunting together
  • Officials in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge says such behavior is unusual
  • Ray Cason was heading out to fish at Stephen C. Foster State Park
  • Alligators were likely eating mudfish (bowfin)

(CNN) -- A voice heard on an amazing video of 300 feeding alligators says it all.

"I ain't never seen so many gators in my life."

Ray Cason's biggest catch earlier this month, when he went fishing at Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okefenokee Swamp in southeast Georgia, was two videos that have made a splash on Facebook and YouTube. As of Tuesday night they had garnered nearly 100,000 page views, according to YouTube.

One of the videos looks like something out of an "Animal Planet" special. Alligator heads bob on the surface while others, in the background, gyrate and thrash in the water as they snap at mudfish, also known as bowfin.

The alligators are jammed in a canal perhaps 30 feet wide.

"With a high population of mudfish you can almost smell them," said Art Webster, supervisory refuge manager at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

"I've never seen footage like that before," said state wildlife biologist Greg Nelms who, along with other wildlife officials, told CNN this rare "cooperative feeding" happens once every three or four years.

Stephen C. Foster park manager Travis Griffin believes it last happened in 2007.

Griffin, who was not at the park the weekend of the event, said rangers saw alligators congregating about 10 p.m. July 9 near the quarter-mile-long canal that leads from the Foster boat area into open water near Billy's Lake.

No one had any idea of the scene that would greet Cason, 39, of Homerville, Georgia, on the morning of July 10.

"When I put the boat in you had the awfulest ruckus," Cason said. Many alligators were in the boat basin.

He headed out in the early morning light with another boat close behind. Moments later, they realized they had about 150 alligators in front of them and 150 behind.

Cason said the teeming alligators were hunting together. Many formed a reptile wall beyond the canal.

"They would converge together," Cason said. "I saw gators pushing them [the fish] back [into the canal]. I saw them push them to the bank and eat them."

Cason returned to the park the next morning, July 11, and shot more video. He said about 175 gators were visible.

The alligators were gone by 8 a.m., according to Griffin. Although he and other wildlife officials said the waters are safe for boaters, the state park waited to be sure that wild morning.

"I wouldn't rent my boats out until they were gone," he said.

Stephen C. Foster State Park covers 80 acres. It is a small portion of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge's 401,000-plus acres. Webster estimates the refuge is home to about 11,000 alligators.

He said he was concerned that Cason and the other boater may have been pushing the gators along and might have hurt them. "This was potentially not a safe thing to do."

But Cason said he waited several minutes for most of the alligators to clear before he proceeded. An alligator bumped the boat behind him but wasn't injured, Cason said.

The videos were posted by the Clinch County News. Cason said he hopes to show additional footage to school groups.

"By no means is the swamp dangerous," he said. "It's probably something I never will see again."

Cason had additional luck that Saturday, catching his limit of jackfish and warmouth perch.

Life has almost returned to normal at Stephen C. Foster State Park, which is near the town of Fargo. Alligator sightings are at normal levels, it's hot and the park's beauty awaits visitors.

Griffin isn't sure whether Cason's encounter will bring more campers and boaters, but it sure has raised interest in the behavior of alligators.

"You can never predict what they are going to do," Webster said.