for National Geographic News
A massive prehistoric sea reptile that was longer than a humpback whale and had teeth the size of cucumbers has been found by fossil hunters on a remote Arctic island. (See pictures of the "sea monster.")
Measuring some 50 feet (15 meters) in length, the bone-crunching predator represents one of the largest marine reptiles ever known, according to a team led by Jørn Hurum of the Natural History Museum in Oslo, Norway.
The 150-million-year-old creature was first discovered in 2006 on Spitsbergen, part of Norway's Svalbard archipelago, in a polar wasteland littered with fossilized sea reptiles (see map).
(Read related story: "Dino-Era 'Sea Monster' Found on Arctic Island" [October 6, 2006].)
"We knew immediately this was something special," Hurum said. "The large pieces of bone and the structure of the fragments told us that this was big."
Hurum's team returned last summer to the Arctic island to excavate the fossil.
Removing a hundred tons of rock by hand while watching out for polar bears, the team recovered a large chunk of the skeleton, including portions of its estimated ten-foot-long (three-meter) skull, an almost complete forelimb, and sections of its dinner-plate-size vertebrae.
Dubbed "the Monster," it's thought to be a previously unknown species of plesiosaur.
"It's as big or bigger than the largest plesiosaur ever found," Hurum said. "This absolutely looks like a new species," he added.
"T. Rex of the Ocean"
Plesiosaurs were marine reptiles that typically had small heads, long necks, and large flippers.
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