Miners digging for gemstones recently found another kind of treasure when they stumbled upon the fossilized remains of an ancient “sea monster” in Alberta, Canada.
Ammolite miners working on a mine near Lethbridge last month discovered a mosasaur, likely of the genus Tylosaurus, that lived during the dinosaur age about 70 million years ago.
The mosasaur dominated the seas when most of the planet was ocean, Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology’s director of resource management Dan Spivak, told CBC News‘s Calgary Eyeopener.
“It’s still pretty much encased in rock, but based on what we’ve seen from other similar type of animals this is a large marine reptile,” Spivak said. “It kind of looks a little bit like a swimming Komodo dragon, maybe with a bit pointier nose.”
The miners, who were looking for pieces of rainbow-colored ammolite that could be made into jewelry, were digging at the Bearpaw Formation. Around one or two fossilized marine reptiles a year have been discovered at the site, so the recent find was not a complete surprise. But what is rare is a discovery of a nearly complete skeleton.
When the miners spotted the mosasaur fossil embedded into a rock, they stopped work immediately and called the Royal Tyrell Museum, a center of paleontological research known for its collection of more than 130,000 fossils.
Spivak said the Royal Tyrrell people handling the newly discovered fossil determined that it was up to 23 feet long. “The skull itself is about a metre [3 feet] long with sharp pointy teeth and a real mean look on its face,” he said.
There is no living comparable species on the planet, Spivak told CBC.
“They were apex predators,” Spivak said. “These things would be swimming around in what would have been a shallow sea that covered a large part of Alberta 70, 72 million years ago, feeding on turtles and ammonoid and fish — and pretty much anything else that they could have got their teeth into.”
It’s not yet clear if the mosasaur will go on display for public viewing. But visitors can see other mosasaur specimens in the Royal Tyrrell Museum’s Dinosaur Hall.