Here be monsters

Remains of giant sea-going reptiles found in High Arctic


If you think an angry walrus looks mean, imagine an Arctic ocean that once teemed with sharp-toothed creatures that resemble the Loch Ness monster.

Researchers from McGill University have unearthed the fossilized remains of several such sea creatures on Melville Island, the Toronto Star reported this Tuesday.

It’s the first time some of these now-extinct creatures have been found that far North, the fossil-hunters say, and in some cases, the first evidence some of these now-extinct creatures lived on the North American continent.

One is the ichthyosaur, a giant ocean-dwelling reptile that resembled a dolphin, with a broad body, four flippers and a tail, matched with a head holding giant, bulging eyes and a mouth full of sharp teeth.

The big eyes helped the creature hunt prey during the night, scientists believe. It mostly fed on large, prehistoric squid, fish and mollusks.

The specimen on Melville Island includes pieces of the animal’s skull, backbone and flippers. These fossils suggest the Arctic ichthyosaur was three to four metres long — far smaller than other specimens of the species, which was believed to reach 15 metres in length.

The fossils were found among rocks about 120 million years old, dating back to the early Cretaceous period.

Ichthyosaur remains have been found around Asia, North America and Europe. Their appearance in the Arctic could reveal a polar migration route of the creatures, according to Hans Larrson, a McGill professor and a Canada Research Chair in vertabrate paleontology, who is leading the research group.

The fossil-hunters also discovered the remains of plesiosaurs — another water-dwelling reptile with a broad body and a long, snake-like neck.

These creatures are widely believed to have died off 65 million years ago — although some swear they’ve seen similar creatures in lakes such as Scotland’s Loch Ness, and British Columbia’s Lake Okanagan.

The plesiosaur’s flippers allowed the animal to deftly move about the water, while its long neck would allow it to snap up unsuspecting fish.

Other finds include what appears to be the remains of a Thalattosuchian, the modern crocile’s distant relative, which has never been found before in North America.

The fossils will be studied in detail when they are brought south. Until then, they sit in buckets, awaiting transfer from the researchers’ field camp to Resolute.

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