Rare fossil of sea reptile found on Alaska beach

ANCHORAGE, Alaska,  (Reuters) – Alaska scientists  have discovered the fossil of a rare, prehistoric marine  reptile that is likely the most complete remnant of the  creature ever found in North America.
The nearly complete fossilized skeleton is of a  thalattosaur, a long-tailed sea creature that plied warm,  shallow waters in the early days of dinosaurs and became  extinct at the end of the Triassic period some 200 million  years ago.

The discovery of the fossil, found during an extreme low  tide along the shore of the Tongass National Forest, was  announced this week by the Museum of the North at the  University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

“We were just having our morning coffee out on the  outcropping when somebody said, ‘What’s that?’“ Jim Baichtal,  the U.S. Forest Service’s Tongass geologist and part of the  discovery team, said on Thursday.

Geologists had been conducting field surveys at the site  when the fossil was spotted.

Unlike most thalattosaur discoveries, which are fossilized  remnants of individual bones and bone fragments, this specimen  appeared to be a nearly full skeleton.

“In North America, this may be the most articulated  specimen that we have right now,” Baichtal said.

Scientists excavated the fossil in June and have been  studying it to determine whether it represents a previously  unknown species.

There are only about a dozen full thalattosaur specimens in  the world, Baichtal said. “So the probability of this being  something that wasn’t seen before is probably pretty high,” he  said.

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