The most complete fossil ever found in North America of a rare prehistoric marine reptile known as a Thalattosaur, has washed ashore during an extremely low tide near the Tongass National Forest. The site of the discovery is near to the Tlingit Indian village of Kake in southeast Alaska.
It is a rare find indeed as most discoveries relating to this particular reptile have been individual bones and bone fragments; this time the find is an almost complete skeleton.
The Thalattasaur had a very long tail and lived in warm shallow waters during the early days of dinosaurs. It measured some three to 10 feet long, with half to a third of that taken up by the tail. It became extinct some 200 million years ago at the end of the Triassic Period. Scientists were able to determine that at the time it was trapped in sediment, the environment was tropical and very near to the equator.
Geologists had been on an outcropping in the area conducting field surveys when one observer simply said, “What’s that,” pointing to the specimen embedded in the sand.
In the words of Jim Baichtal, the U.S. Forest Service’s Tongass geologist and part of the discovery team: “In North America, this may be the most articulated specimen that we have right now… There are only about a dozen full thalattosaur specimens in the world…”
The fossil was excavated in June and scientists are studying it to determine the exact nature of the species. It now has a new and much less sandy home at the Museum of the North, where researchers will do further work to separate the rock from the bone.
Only the skull of the creature is missing and there will be an imminent return to the site to see if they can find it.
Every day, old mysteries unravel and newer ones present themselves. That is the dynamic nature of our baffling world.