February 28, 2008

I see your fish lizard, and raise you a pliosaur

Posted by: Karyn Gregory

Remember last month when the Burke Museum installed its new marine reptile fossil, the ichthyosaur? Well, now there's another marine reptile making the news.

Nicknamed “The Monster” by scientists, this previously unknown species of ancient marine reptile is a type of pliosaur, which are short-necked variants of plesiosaurs.

It was discovered on Spitspergen in 2006, in the Arctic island chain of Svalbard. After excavation and partial articulation, the researchers are now certain they can claim that their pliosaur find is the largest ever on record. From the BBC News article today:

…Dr Jorn Hurum, from the University of Oslo Natural History Museum, said the Svalbard specimen is 20% larger than the previous biggest marine reptile - another massive pliosaur from Australia called Kronosaurus.

"We have carried out a search of the literature, so we now know that we have the biggest [pliosaur]. It's not just arm-waving anymore," Dr Hurum told the BBC News website.

"The flipper is 3m long with very few parts missing. On Monday, we assembled all the bones in our basement and we amazed ourselves - we had never seen it together before."

The Burke’s own plesiosaur, a long-necked type known as the elasmosaur, is on display in our long-term exhibit The Life and Times of Washington State.

- Karyn


Top: Newly discovered pliosaur flipper, photo by J. Hurum.
Bottom: Plesiosaur suspended from above in Life and Times.