Column: Volunteers find 40-foot marine predator fossils found




Scripps Howard News Service

Here’s another reason to worry about the melting of the arctic ice cap. Something might be under it, and by “thing” we don’t mean manganese nodules or junked Russian subs.

Scientists have identified a new species of marine reptile, the largest yet known, called Pliosaurus funkei. The scientists don’t really mean “funky.” The beast is named after its volunteer discoverers, Bjorn and May-Liss Funke, who found its fossils near the Svalbard Islands, halfway between Norway and the North Pole.

Dubbed Predator X until it was identified as a separate species and given a Latin name, this omnivorous sea monster stretched about 40 feet long, with four paddles, a weight of up to 45 tons and a 6.5-foot skull, with 12-inch teeth, that could generate 33,000 pounds of bite force. That’s considerably more than a Tyrannosaurus rex, which, as we know from “Jurassic Park,” could bite a Subaru in half — not that there was much call for that 150 million years ago.

Patrick Druckenmiller, a paleontologist at the University of Alaska Museum and co-author of the study, described the creatures as “the top predators of the sea.” They were so-called “apex predators,” which means, in the refreshingly jargon-free explanation of one scientific journal: “They could eat anything they felt like eating.”

Their long paddles meant they could fly through the water in search of their preferred prey, a smaller relative called a plesiosaur.

Today’s most feared marine predator, the great white shark, would have seemed like chum to the Jurassic pliosaur. In “Jaws,” Roy Scheider’s character calls for “a bigger boat” to land the shark. In a remake starring the pliosaur, he’d probably mean the USS Missouri.

Hold that thought. Because when global warming finally melts the polar ice cap, we don’t really know what we’ll find under it. There’s nothing like a 150 million-year hibernation to make a 40-foot pliosaur work up an appetite.

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