Manitoba Museum unveils rare pliosaur fossil

A 90-million-year-old pliosaur (ply-oh-saur) fossil was unveiled today in the Earth History Gallery at the Manitoba Museum. This large marine reptile is represented by two skeletons: a display of the actual fossil and a full skeletal reconstruction. Pliosaurs were a type of plesiosaur (plee-zee-oh-saur), a group of extinct reptiles that were at the top of the food chain in the Cretaceous seas.

In life, the Manitoba Museum’s pliosaur would have been about 18 feet long (5.5 metres). An examination of the fossils revealed that the creature was still a juvenile and, had it grown to adult size, it might have reached 40 feet (12 metres) or more. The skeletal reconstruction is life-sized and suspended from the ceiling, positioned as it would have been when swimming in the seas of old. Below it, the original fossil is dramatically panel-mounted in a glass-topped case, laid out in a recreation of bedrock as though it has just been discovered.

Fossils from the Cretaceous Period are abundant, but high quality pliosaur fossils are extremely rare. This fossil is so well preserved, shark teeth can still be seen embedded in the smooth bone structure, says Dr. Graham Young, Curator of Geology and Paleontology.

“This is the only relatively complete pliosaur ever collected in Canada, and one of the best in the world. It is scientifically significant because pliosaurskulls have rarely been found with the body fossils, as they generally became separated during decomposition,” he adds. “Since we have both the skull and paddles (flippers), this fossil can tell scientists a lot that was previously unknown about pliosaurs. It is being actively studied by scientists from Tokyo’s Gakugei University and the Canadian Museum of Nature, who plan to write a paper about this discovery. Since it is still being studied, it does not yet have a scientific name – it might even be a new species.”

The pliosaur fossil was discovered in 2002 in the Manitoba Escarpment in the western part of the province by agricultural scientist and amateur paleontologist, Dr. Wayne Buckley, and the various components were painstakingly collected between 2002 and 2005. Buckley prepared and documented the fossils in his home workshop before donating them to the Museum in 2014.

The pliosaur is on permanent display in the Earth History Gallery.


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