July 30, 2011

Rare, Nearly Complete Marine Reptile Fossil Discovered

The remains of a rare, prehistoric marine reptile that was discovered by Alaskan scientists is being called the most complete fossil representation of this creature ever located in North America, according to Daily Mail and Reuters reports on Friday.

According to the Daily Mail newspaper, the remains are of a nearly-complete thalattosaur, which is a three-to-ten foot long sea creature, with a long, flat tail, which had died out approximately 200 million years ago.

They note that the fossils were discovered during an exceptionally low tide along the shores of the Tongass National Forest, and the find was made public this week by the University of Alaska's Museum Of The North.

The thalattosaur fossil was discovered by a geological team member in May, the Museum said in a statement posted to their official website. Jim Baichtal, a geologist at the National Forest, then sent photos to Museum earth sciences curator Patrick Druckenmiller for analysis.

"We were just having our morning coffee out on the outcropping when somebody said, 'What's that?'" Baichtal said of the discovery in an interview with Reuters reporter Yereth Rosen.

Rosen said that the fossils were excavated last month and are currently being studied to determine whether or not they are from an as-of-yet-undiscovered species.

According to Baichtal, only about a dozen complete thalattosaur specimens have been discovered worldwide, so "the probability of this being something that wasn't seen before is probably pretty high."

"We know the rocks are about 220 million years old," Druckenmiller recalled in a statement. "Based on the age of the rocks and what I could see in the picture, I was 99 percent sure that's what it was"¦ It's reasonably complete and once we reveal more of the skeleton, we will be able to compare it to other thalattosaurs to see if it is a new species."

Some of the fossil remains embedded in beach rock at the site, the Daily Mail says, but from what they have already gathered, they have noticed that it appears to include the outline of soft-body tissues that would have surrounded the bone. The researchers plan to return and attempt an excavation of the remaining bits of the fossil at a later date.


Image Caption: An extreme low tide near Kake in Southeast Alaska in May revealed the tail of a thalattosaur fossil. Photo by Patrick Druckenmiller


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