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When Myth Becomes Reality: The Discovery of Sea Monster Fossil in Antarctica

By Sophie – on in News, Environment

Although the notion of sea monsters occupying the deepest oceans may seem the stuff of science fiction novels, a recent discovery by Scientists means that the myths may very much be true.

In the icy front of Antarctica, scientists officially unearthed an almost complete fossil of an Elasmosaurus that, in its life, weighed an estimated 15 tons! The Elasmosaurus were members of the plesiosaur family, which inhabited the oceans during the Cretaceous Period, some 66-145 million years ago. While fossils of plesiosaurs have previously been found, the recent discovery is a minimum of 5 tons heavier than any other fossil of this nature ever before found. What’s more, the specimen has been dated to have lived around 70 million years ago, right at the time the Cretaceous period was coming to an end. As such, scientists hope it may hold valuable clues as to once and for all finding out what led to the extinction of dinosaurs.

The Thirty-Year Quest

The latest Elasmosaurus fossil was not actually a new discovery. In fact, its presence was first detected by a researcher from Purdue University named William Zinsmeister. However, while Zinsmeister knew where to find it, actually getting it out of the ice where it had been embedded in the Antarctic was millions of years was a different story altogether. The harsh climate, in combination with temperatures that frequently fell below 100 degrees, entailed that the dig could only be performed in the summer months of January and February. Even on the most pleasing summer’s days, the dig couldn’t start in earnest until the late morning, at which point the permafrost had sufficiently thawed for the excavation to take place. Unsurprising, the project progressed at a very slow pace.

In reality, it was thirty years before researchers could confirm that Zinsmeister had, indeed, discovered an Elasmosaurus.

A Scottish Cousin?

The unearthing of the Elasmosaurus may also shed further light on the ongoing debate as to whether the Loch Ness Monster did exist as a survivor of the Cretaceous Period. Undeniably, there are some strong similarities between reported sightings of the famous monster of the loch and the Elasmosaurus. For example, the Elasmosaurus has four flippers and a long neck. Two traits that are commonly associated with Nessie.

According to those in the know, the Elasmosaurus is relatively similar in appearance to a manatee; however, it can be distinguished by its very long neck, which can reach 23 feet, and its snake-like triangular head. Another major difference between the manatee and the Elasmosaurus is that the latter were reptiles… and among the largest creatures on Earth.

Secrets Remain

The bones of William Zinsmeister’s discovery are now on display in the Marimbio Base museum in Argentina. Paleontologists who are researching the monster are only on the cusp of finding out what life was really like in the oceans of the Cretaceous Period.

Scientists are particularly interested in the fact that a plesiosaur has been found in Antarctica. Until relatively recently, the discovery of fossils of this nature had been limited to the Northern hemisphere. As such, researchers now hope with intrepid excitement that the lesser-explored region of the Antarctic may hold the key to answering many remaining mysteries.

But even this discovery in isolation has taught us a lot about prehistoric times. For example, those studying the Elasmosaurus were surprised by its small teeth. The size of its choppers indicates that its diet will have consisted predominantly of small fish and crustaceans and small fish. Given its mammoth size, it would have needed to consume a lot of these fish, and this gives scientists some important insights into how the oceans may have looked some 66 million years ago.

The biggest secret of all

While this is all well and good, perhaps the most exciting aspect of the discovery is the age of the fossil. According to scientists, this particular sea monster was alive and kicking just 33,000 years before the Cretaceous Period came to an end. This is interesting because it indicates that the oceans were teeming life right up to the time when dinosaurs became extinct; otherwise, a massive fish-gulping creature like the Elasmosaurus simply couldn’t have survived. This adds fire to the claims that a single catastrophic event, such as an asteroid strike, eradicated much of life on Earth and contradicts the alternative view that dinosaurs were already beginning to die off before the K-T event occurred.

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Sophie

Sophie holds a bachelor's degree in biology. She has always been passionate about literature and writing, which is why she likes to write scientific articles for Get-Science whenever she has the opportunity. Although her favourite subject is biology (of course!), she is also interested in astronomy as well as the environment.