October 28, 2009

Ancient Sea-Monster Discovered

British authorities reported that the fossilized skull of a giant sea monster has been discovered off England's Jurassic coast.

The ruthless predator, called a pliosaur, once dominated the oceans 150 million years ago.

The creature"Ëœs skull, which experts say could belong to one of the largest pliosaurs ever unearthed, had a skull almost 8 feet long and had an overall length of up to 52 feet.

A local collector found the fossil, which has been bought by the Dorset County Council with money from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The fossil comprised of a lower jaw and upper skull, will now be scientifically analyzed and prepared before being publicly displayed at the Dorset County Museum.

Paleontologist Richard Forrest told the BBC, "I had heard rumors that something big was turning up. But seeing this thing in the flesh, so to speak, is just jaw dropping. It is simply enormous."

Pliosaurs were a kind of plesiosaur, a group of giant aquatic reptiles that ruled the seas around the same time that dinosaurs roamed the Earth with their short necks and huge, crocodilian-like heads containing powerful jaws full of sharp teeth.

They used four paddle-like limbs to push their big bodies through the water, making it easy to catch prey such as dolphin-like ichthyosaurs and even other plesiosaurs.

Dr. David Martill, a paleontologist from the University of Portsmouth, said, "These creatures were monsters...They had massive big muscles on their necks, and you would have imagined that they would bite into the animal and get a good grip, and then with these massive neck muscles they probably would have thrashed the animals around and torn chunks off. "

Experts believe that the recent discovery could very well be one of the largest pliosaurs to ever be found.

"This thing is absolutely enormous. When I saw it, it really just hit me how big it was," said Dr. Martill.

Based on the length of the lower jaw and upper skull, it is estimated that the creature would have measured between 33-52ft from tip to tail, and would have weighed approximately 7-12 tons.

This indicates that it could rival other recent discoveries made in Svalbard, where creatures nicknamed "The Monster" and "Predator X" were thought to have measured around 49 feet, and in Mexico, where the "Monster of Aramberri" was discovered in 2002, and may have had comparable dimensions.

"We only have the head, so you cannot be absolutely precise. "But it may be vying with the ones found in Svalbard and Mexico for the title of the world's largest,"  Dr. Martill added.

Though the fossil is still in its unprepared form, it is still impressively well preserved.

Plesiosaur expert Richard Forrest said, "Pliosaur skulls are very big, but not that robust, in general, and you tend to find them crushed flat - completely 'pancaked'. What is fantastic about this new skull, not only is it absolutely enormous, but it is pretty much in 3D and not much distorted."

He went on to say, "You have this wonderful lower jaw - and you can just see from the depth and the thickness that this was immensely strong"¦It could have taken a human in one gulp; in fact, something like a T. Rex would have been breakfast for a beast like this."

The local collector found the fossil along the Jurassic Coast, a 95 mile coastline covering Dorset and East Devon that spans 185 million years of geological history, but the exact location has not been disclosed because the Dorset County Council does not want people to start visiting the area since it is unstable and dangerous with rock falls and landslides.

Dorset County Council's earth science manager for the Jurassic Coast Richard Edmonds, said, "This part of the coastline is eroding really rapidly and that means the fossils that are trapped and buried are constantly tumbling out on to the beach."

"The collector was lucky enough to come along on the day a large piece fell out of the cliff, and that gave him the clue to keep on looking. He spent the next four years coming back day after day, and as a result he has uncovered this absolutely incredible fossil,"  he said.

"It was an amazing effort."

Dr. Edmonds thinks that the rest of the giant could still be in the rock, though it may take decades for it to be uncovered.

"The ground is dipping very steeply, and as it is such a huge specimen it will be buried beneath layer-upon-layer of rock, so we will have to patiently wait for the next big landslide," he said.

Using Heritage Lottery Funds, Dorset County Council has now purchased the fossil for about $32,800.

County's museums advisor David Tucker said, "Our aim is to purchase fossils found along the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and to get them into local museums, we want to put really exceptional fossils in museums."

The council is currently talking with experts to agree on the best way to study and prepare the fossil.

According to scientists, it will be a great opportunity, which could provide an incredible amount of information about these ferocious sea creatures and the ancient world in which they thrived.


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