Image: Plesiosaur excavation
Natural History Museum, Univ. of Oslo  /  AFP / Getty Images file
In a 2004 photo, University of Oslo researcher Joern Hurum excavates a type of plesiosaur known as a Kimmerosaurus in Norway's Svalbard archipelago, above teh Arctic Circle.
updated 10/5/2006 3:36:07 PM ET 2006-10-05T19:36:07

Scientists have found a fossil of a “Monster” fishlike reptile in a 150 million-year-old Jurassic graveyard on an Arctic island off Norway.

The Norwegian researchers discovered remains of a total of 28 plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs — top marine predators when dinosaurs dominated on land — at a site on the island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago, about 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) from the North Pole.

“One of them was this gigantic monster, with vertebrae the size of dinner plates and teeth the size of cucumbers,” Joern Hurum, an assistant professor at the University of Oslo, told Reuters on Thursday.

“We believe the skeleton is intact and that it’s about 10 meters [33 feet] long,” he told Reuters. The pliosaur, a type of plesiosaur with a short neck and massive skull, has been dubbed “The Monster.”

The University's Natural History Museum said the reptile was "as long as a bus" with a mouth "that could swallow an adult human whole."

Such pliosaurs are known from remains in countries including Britain and Argentina, but no complete skeleton has been found, he said. The skull of the pliosaur — perhaps a distant real-life relative to Scotland’s mythical Loch Ness monster — was among the biggest on record.

Scientists would return next year to try to excavate the entire fossil, buried on a hillside.

Plesiosaurs, which swam with two sets of flippers, often preyed on smaller dolphinlike ichthyosaurs. All went extinct when the dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago.

The scientists rated the fossil graveyard “one of the most important new sites for marine reptiles to have been discovered in the last several decades”.

“It is rare to find so many fossils in the same place — carcasses are food for other animals and usually get torn apart,” Hurum said.

Hurum reckoned the reptiles had not all died at the same time in some Jurassic-era cataclysm but had died over thousands of years in the same area, then had become preserved in what was apparently a deep layer of black mud on the seabed.

At that time, the area of Spitsbergen was under water several hundred miles farther south, around the latitude of Anchorage or Oslo.

Hurum said the presence of fossils was also an interesting pointer for geologists hunting for oil and gas deposits in the Barents Sea to the east. “A skull we found even smells of petrol,” he said.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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