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Dinosaur and Fossil: Alaska Paleontologists Find Plesiosaur, Swimming Dinosaur

Jul 26, 2015 01:59 PM EDT
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The Loch Ness monster may have swum in the ancient seas of Alaska.

That is, scientists recently uncovered an elasmosaur fossil in Alaska's Talkeetna Mountains. The creature, a type of plesiosaur with a very long neck and paddle-like legs, swam under water in the Late Cretaceous period, about 70 million years ago, as a release notedThe earth sciences curator at University of Alaska Museum of the North said in the release that this swimmer essentially looked like the mythical Loch Ness monster. 

This is the first elasmosaur skeleton found in Alaska, although the first bones of such a creature were found in Kansas in 1868

Curvin Metzler, an Anchorage-based fossil collector, found vertebrae of the skeleton eroding out of a bluff. While he'd been hiking in the area for 25 years, he had never found a vertebrate fossil there. When the museum's earth science curator, Patrick Druckenmiller and two others looked at the site in June, they were able to collect a good portion of the skeleton, as the release confirmed. 

Druckenmiller has collected plesiosaurs from all over western North America and is one of the foremost marine reptile fossil experts in the world.

"I was really excited the first time Curvin showed me one of its bones," Druckenmiller said in the release. "I recognized it as a vertebra from the base of the animal's neck and wanted to visit the site to see if we could find more. Based on the size of the bones we excavated, the animal should be at least 25 feet long."

Aside from plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs and thalattosaurs are two other types of ancient marine reptiles whose bones have been found in Alaska.

To learn more about elasmosaurs, see the Smithsonian website here

Follow Catherine on Twitter at @TreesWhales.

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