An illustration by Lawrence DeMeza depicting the 'sea serpent' reported off
the Dungeness Spit in 1953 as a plesiosaurian animal.
The file containing this article was posted on this blog quite some time ago, when I was admittedly not open enough towards the relict plesiosaur hypothesis to take on the arduous task of reposting the entire paper. After several months of research, I am now in a position where I feel that this article is a fundamental and unparalleled resource in regard to the possibility that the animals reported as "sea serpents" and "lake monsters" may be extant lineages of Plesiosauroidea. While the relict plesiosaur hypothesis could certainly be interpreted as radical, the case made by certain proponents holds some zoological merit in the view of this author. In the article, Scott has compiled a plethora of material and quotes from a broad variety of sources which he feels have bearing in regard to the question of relict plesiosaurs. He has bolded text which he feels is of importance and has added his commentary and comparative images where he has felt necessary. He focuses on material related to points of contention which have been used to dissuade the relict plesiosaur hypothesis, and utilizes recent scientific data to rebut these common arguments. These focal points include the recent literature regarding the ability of plesiosaurs to inhabit cold and freshwater, to give birth to live young, and other such functions which were once readily used as arguments against the relict plesiosaur hypothesis. As I previously remarked to Scott Mardis, it is almost as if recent discoveries regarding plesiosaur behavior and anatomy are supporting the relict plesiosaur hypothesis (with the exception of some such as the issue of limited neck flexibility, although soft tissue features could allow a wider range of flexibility and a Leptocleidus specimen was found with significant vertical neck flexure). The article also contains information on reworked plesiosaur fossils: the remains of these ancient reptiles which have been found in post-Cretaceous geological strata. While there is the possibility that these fossils were simply eroded into different geological layers, the abundance and occasional articulation of these remains has caused researchers such as Scott Mardis to wonder if they are evidence for the survival of plesiosaurs beyond the Mesozoic Era. Regardless of whether you consider the idea of relict plesiosaurs possible or not, I encourage you to read this excellent article.
This is a guest post by Scott Mardis. Scott has been an active field investigator of the Lake Champlain “Monster” since 1992. He is a former sustaining member of the defunct International Society of Cryptozoology and a former volunteer worker in the Vertebrate Paleontology Dept. of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences (1990-1992). He co-authored a scientific abstract about the Lake Champlain hydrophone sounds for the Acoustical Society of America in 2010. He currently lives in Bradenton, Florida.
Adaptation to cold marine waters was also revealed by the fossil reptile assemblage discovered in the Aptian southern high-latitude deposits of the White Cliffs in southeast Australia. The specimens were attributed to at least three families of plesiosaurs and at least one of ichthyosaurs. Paleoclimatic proxies indicate cold to near-freezing conditions at the seasonal scale, a climate mode that is not tolerated by modern ectothermic reptiles such as turtles or crocodiles. This observation suggests that some Mesozoic marine reptile taxa were able to cope with low temperature marine environments."- Aurélien Bernard, et al. Regulation of Body Temperature by Some Mesozoic Marine Reptiles, Science 328(2010);pp.1379-1382
|(from Ryosuke Motani, Warm-Blooded "Sea Dragons"?, Science 328, 2010, pp.1361-1362)|
|Mesozoic Geologic Table|
|South Pole (Early Cretaceous Period)|
These conspicuous sedimentary structures characterise the early depositional stages of the Bulldog Shale and Wallumbilla Formation in the southern Eromanga Basin and have been correlated with a period of very cold to near-freezing climatic conditions during the Late Neocomian–Early Albian. A similar cool temperate to very cold environmental setting has been suggested for the Lower-mid Albian (C. paradoxa Zone) estuarine–coastal plain facies of the Griman Creek Formation at Lightning Ridge, New South Wales/Suratregion, Queensland, and the Aptian–Lower Albian (C. hughsii Subzone–C. striatus Subzone) braided stream and overbank flood plain deposits of the Wonthaggi and Eumeralla formations in Victoria. These units have produced a handful of plesiosaur remains (mainly isolated teeth) that represent animals living near to or within the Cretaceous southern polar circle and evidently adapted to at least seasonal occupation of inland freshwater environments.
"The record of plesiosaurians from freshwater deposits is sparse in comparison to those from marine sediments. Despite this, a number of discoveries have been made from around the world. The fact that these range in age from Early–Middle Jurassic to Late Cretaceous attests to the group’s long history of habitation in non-marine environments. The vast majority of non-marine plesiosaur specimens are fragmentary, and many are taxonomically uninformative. Where they are diagnostic, however, many of the freshwater specimens are referable either to ‘rhomaleosaurid-like’ taxa, or to the widespread Cretaceous pliosauroid genus Leptocleidus. Not surprisingly, therefore, the material from southeastern Australia shares similarities with this latter taxon, and lends support to the hypothesis that freshwater and near-shore marine environments may have served as refugia for plesiomorphic pliosauriform plesiosaurs well into the late Early Cretaceous. The plesiosaur fossils from southeastern Australia constitute one of a number of recognized finds from Cretaceous high-latitude deposits. However, most other occurrences are marine in origin, including examples from central Australia, New Zealand, the Chatham Islands, Patagonia, Antarctica and the Canadian Northwest Territories. Amongst the currently documented specimens, those from the Early Cretaceous units of central and southeastern Australia are unusual because they occur in association with paleoclimatic indicators (e.g., cryoturbated sediments, glacial erratics, glendonites, and growth-banded wood) denoting seasonally very cold to near freezing conditions. This contrasts markedly with climatic regimes typically tolerated by modern aquatic reptiles, but suggests that some plesiosaur taxa may have been able to cope with extremely low average water temperatures."-Benjamin P. Kear, PLESIOSAUR REMAINS FROM CRETACEOUS HIGH-LATITUDE NON-MARINE DEPOSITS IN SOUTHEASTERN AUSTRALIA, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 26(1) (2006), pp.196–199
|Freshwater plesiosaurs from southeastern Australia (from Kear 2006)|
|Freshwater plesiosaurs, probably Elasmosaurid, from Horseshoe Canyon, Alberta, Canada(from Sato and Wu 2006)|
|Freshwater Elasmosaurid Teeth, Axel Heilberg Island, High Canadian Arctic (from Vandermark et al. 2006)|
|Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coracea)|
Problem: the entire theory of gigantothermy is based on Paladino et al.’s erroneous data on leatherbacks, and it has since been retracted by these authors. Given that other studies do not show leatherbacks to have an elevated metabolic rate (Lutcavage et al. 1990), the theory of gigantothermy has died a death, and there is no evidence that giant bradymetabolic vertebrates converge in physiology with giant tachymetabolic ones. Even if gigantothermy were a viable theory, in marine reptiles it is only theoretically possible with the suite of features cited above. Indeed Orenstein (2001) writes ‘Gigantothermy…would not be enough to keep a leatherback warm in cold northern waters’ (pg. 134). At the moment the idea that plesiosaurs may have been cold tolerant is not based on any good evidence.
As for the evidence showing that some Cretaceous plesiosaurs inhabited cold water with icebergs etc., this is controversial: the Cretaceous poles were nowhere near as cold as the modern ones and the evidence that the Australian sites they referred to were frequented by icebergs rests on the presence of drop stones- rocks alien to the local sedimentary geology and which appear to have been carried to their new home by ice. The problem is that icebergs are not the only way in which drop stones get dropped. Stones and rocks can also be carried for miles and miles in the roots of floating trees and as seaweed holdfasts."- Darren Naish, CZ Conversations: Darren Naish on Plesiosaurs, Basilosaurs and the Problems with Reconstructions, North American BioFortean Review 5 (3) (2003), pp.10-19
"Among modern reptiles, the plesiosaur-like trait combination of viviparity, small brood size, and large birth size is rare, but it does occur in the scincid Egernia species group. Because both cetaceans and Egernia-group lizards are highly social and engage in substantial maternal care, plesiosaurs may have behaved similarly. We hypothesize that large plesiosaur fetus size may indicate that plesiosaurs lived in gregarious social groups and engaged in parental care."- F. R. O’Keefe and L. M. Chiappe, Viviparity and K-Selected Life History in a Mesozoic Marine Plesiosaur (Reptilia, Sauropterygia), Science 333(2011), pp. 870-873
"The ability of plesiosaurs to move on land is another point of contention. The mechanics of their skeletons imply a completely aquatic existence: the limb girdles are only weakly connected to the axial skeleton and this would inhibit the transfer of force from limb strokes into movement on land. However, small plesiosaurs may have been relatively unaffected by these constraints and might have used their powerful limb downstrokes to propel themselves forward in short ‘hops’."- Adam Stuart Smith, Fossils Explained 54: Plesiosaurs, Geology Today 24(2) (2008), pp.71-75
The plesiosaur Cryptocleidus oxoniensis on land from the BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs, Copyright Dave Martill and Darren Naish 2000
|Arthur Grant’s sketch of Loch Ness " Monster" on land, Jan. 1934|
There is an obvious parallel in the discovery of Latimeria. Before 1938, one might have formulated the hypothesis that coelacanths became extinct by the end of the Cretaceous. This hypothesis would be verified by the lack of such fossils, and could be falsified by the discovery of post-cretaceous coelacanths. It was falsified rather dramatically in 1938 when Latimeria was discovered. This does not mean that it was not a good hypothesis - the fact that it was falsified means that it was. Furthermore, it does not mean that we now have to work from the hypothesis that coelacanths survived to the present day: that's a fact, not an hypothesis. The assertion that they have survived to the present day is verified by the existence of Latimeria, but that assertion is not an hypothesis: it cannot be falsified. Latimeria can't be ‘undiscovered’ again."- Richard Forrest, Something about hypotheses, http://newsgroups.derkeiler.com/Archive/Talk/talk.origins/2006-05/msg05799.html
|Cenozoic Geologic Table|
(Editors note: As most reading this will be aware, plesiosaurs were not dinosaurs. However, the current controversy within the paleontological community as to whether Paleocene dinosaur fossils represent dinosaur survival after the Cretaceous mass extinctions or "reworked" Cretaceous fossils is indirectly relevant to the " living plesiosaur" controversy in that there exist many post-Cretaceous "reworked" plesiosaur fossils, spanning from the Paleocene to the Pleistocene.)
A potential weakness in determining the age of a fossil based on the age of the strata containing the fossil is the possibility that the fossil in question may have been reworked from older strata. The direct dating of fossil bone could preclude the reworking hypothesis. We herein report the first successful direct U-Pb age determinations for two fossil dinosaur bones using an in situ laser ablation–multicollector–inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometer technique (LA-MC-ICP-MS). We believe that the 64.8 ± 0.9 Ma age obtained for the longitudinal section BB1B provides an accurate age for the deposition and diagenesis of this dinosaur bone. Moreover, because this bone was dated directly, it’s age supports the geochemical data indicating that this bone was not reworked from underlying Cretaceous strata. This direct U-Pb age for bone BB1 also provides independent evidence suggesting the possible survival of some dinosaurs into the Paleocene in the San Juan Basin area, as proposed in Fassett (1982, 2009), Fassett et al. (1987, 2002), and Fassett and Lucas (2000)."- James E. Fassett et al., Direct U-Pb dating of Cretaceous and Paleocene dinosaur bones, San Juan Basin, New Mexico, Geology 39(2) (2011), pp. 159-162
"The finding of what appears to be solid evidence for Paleocene dinosaurs has a number of implications. One implication is that it demonstrates the powerful tendency of scientists to group data into rigid time slots according to the assumed evolution of index fossils. Such tendencies have been labeled the ‘reinforcement syndrome’. The reinforcement syndrome is the tendency by which a hypothesis, or result, is repeatedly reinforced by further data, especially if the hypothesis has been developed by a respected scientist. There are many ways of making data agree with preconceived ideas. Once the idea becomes engrained into science, it is very difficult to dislodge it according to the idea of ruling paradigms developed by Thomas Kuhn. The reinforcement syndrome is a form of circular reasoning, and it is very common in experimental and historical science.
The reinforcement syndrome, I believe, is responsible for the belief that dinosaurs finally died out at the end of the Cretaceous, exactly 65 million years ago, and that the mammals took over afterwards. Examples of the reinforcement syndrome are provided when paleontologists simply re-dated ‘Tertiary’ strata to the ‘Cretaceous’ whenever dinosaur remains were found. For instance, dinosaur fossils found in France and India, from what was at first considered Tertiary strata, were subsequently re-dated as Cretaceous. Dinosaurs fossils found in Tertiary strata in eastern Montana have been vigorously opposed and claimed to be caused by reworking."- Michael J. Oard, Paleocene dinosaurs and the reinforcement syndrome, Technical Journal 17 (3) (2003), pp. 5-8
(Editor’s note: A similar controversy to the existence of Paleocene dinosaurs is the controversy over the age and origin of Paleocene elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) found in the Hanna Formation of Wyoming.)
"Historically, sandy paleochannel deposits of the 2,000 m-thick Ferris (Maastrichtian-Danian: 66-62 Ma) and overlying 3,000 m-thick Hanna Formation (Danian-Thanetian: 62-55 Ma) in southern Wyoming’s Hanna and Carbon basins have been interpreted as fluvial channel fills. New selachian paleofaunas from both formations are concentrated in stratigraphic intervals that also exhibit an abundance of mechanical tidal indicators and low-diversity marine ichnofossil assemblages (indicating brackish-water). Their presence in these two continental formations supports the reinterpretation of some sandy paleochannel deposits and shaly intervals as brackish-water estuaries, tidally influenced distributary channels, and interdistributary bays. Cederstroemia and Cretorectolobus are reported for the first time from Maastrichtian deposits (they previously have been documented only from Campanian and older strata). A new species of dasyatid is preserved in the middle Ferris Formation (earliest Paleocene: 64 Ma) and awaits fuller description. Prior interpretations of the Hanna Basin area as being far removed from the influences of the Western Interior Sea (WIS) during the latest Cretaceous and Paleocene must now be re-evaluated. New paleogeographic reconstructions of the western shoreline of the WIS, based in part on the stratigraphic and and geographic distribution of selachian teeth in the Hanna Basin area, suggest that a complete marine regression and continental draining at the end of the Cretaceous did not occur. When combined with sedimentological and ichnological data, selachian tooth assemblages are useful tools for interpreting depositional environments and for basin-scale research."- Anton F.-J. Wroblewski, New Selachian Paleofaunas from "Fluvial" Deposits of the Ferris and Lower Hanna Formations (Maastrichtian-Selandian: 66-58 Ma), Southern Wyoming, Palaios 19 (2004),pp. 249-258
"The Arkadelphia Formation-Midway Group contact (Maastrichtian–Paleocene) near Malvern, Arkansas preserves one of the youngest plesiosaur assemblages yet reported from the Gulf Coastal Plain of the United States. The assemblage consists of three vertebrae, a pubis bone and two teeth recovered by scuba diving an outcrop along a meander bend of the Ouachita River. These plesiosaur remains are preserved in mollusk, coral and ammonoid coquina and may derive from a single individual achieving a total overall length of 10 meters. Taphonomic conditions under which this coquina was deposited indicate that plesiosaurs may have inhabited a shallow, biohermal patch reef environment in southwestern Arkansas where they preyed upon an abundance of ammonoids, bonyfish and chondrichthyans such as Placenticeras sp., Enchodus sp. and Serratolamna serrata. The Arkadelphia Formation-Midway Group plesiosaur assemblage extends the known geographic range of plesiosaurs in North America and indicates that these apex marine reptiles were living at, or near, the K–Pg mass extinction boundary in the region."-Martin A. Becker et al., PLESIOSAUR REMAINS FROM THE ARKADELPHIA FORMATION-MIDWAY GROUP CONTACT (MAASTRICHTIAN-PALEOCENE) HOT SPRING COUNTY, NEAR MALVERN, ARKANSAS, Paper No. 31156-206786 (Abstract Poster),2012 Geological Society of America Annual Meeting and Exposition (Nov.4-7),Charlotte, North Carolina,U.S.A.
Elasmosauridae gen. et sp. indet. OU22344. A, left femur and associated centra and ribs within block; inset is a close up of the vertebrae in oblique lateral view. B, left femur, dorsal surface. C, left femur, lateral surface. D, left femur showing the proximal articular surface. E, Elasmosauridae gen. et sp. indet., a partial centrum (CD646). Abbreviations: cap, capitulum; tr, trochanter. Scale bar equals A, 200 mm; B–D, 100 mm; E, 50 mm; inset not to scale. From Consoli and Stillwell 2009
"STOP A2: COSY DELL FORMATION (K-T BOUNDARY?), Field Presentation by Bob Reynolds. Cajon pass contains 70 million years of history in the rock record. Sediments of Cretaceous age are present as is the Earliest Miocene Vaqueros Fm. Continental deposition starts with the Middle Miocene Cajon Valley Beds. The Inface Bluffs on the northern horizon contain the Brunhes-Matuyama reversal (765,000 yr) suggesting a record of deposition thru the middle-late Pleistocene. At this stop, between I-15 and old Route 66, we are examining the Cretaceous Cosy Dell Formation (Morton and Miller, 2003), formerly called the Paleocene–Eocene? San Franscisquito Formation (Dibblee, 1967; Woodburne and Golz, 1972). The basal conglomerate is overlain by limey sandstones and dark, silty limestone. Its Cretaceous age is determined by the presence of elasmosaur vertebrae in the outcrop to the west (Kooser, 1985). Articulated vertebrae in an outcrop to the northwest (Whale Mountain) suggest that this large marine reptile died in place and was not reworked from other sediments (Lucas and Reynolds, 1991). The section may have potential to contain the K/T boundary, but none of the abundant fossil fish scales, crustaceans, gastropods, pelecypods, or plants from this outcrop provide additional age control relating to that transition. Paleocene Coccoplithus pelagicus, a nanofossil, Apectodinum plexus, a dinoflagellate, and Turritella pachecoensis, a gastropod, were reported (Fred Berry p. c. to Kooser, 1985; Weaver 1951-56) from apparently similar sediments somewhere in Cajon Pass, but by the 1970s the specimens and locality data could not be found."-Geology and Hydrology in the Eastern San Gabriel Mountains: A Journey through the River of Time, Annual Field Trip Number 36, Stops and Discussions, June 19 and 20, 2010
"A new assemblage of marine vertebrates from northern Saudi Arabia, east of the Nafud, leads us to reconsider the age of the top unit of the Aruma Formation, the Lina Member, hitherto referred to the Maastrichtian. This assemblage contains the remains of a dozen selachian and actinopterygian fishes, as well as those of a giant sea turtle representing a new dermochelyid taxon. It suggests a Late Paleocene to Early Eocene age for this unit. This new dating and a revision of the stratigraphic position of the Lina Member demonstrate the existence, on a regional scale, of an important hiatus at the K/T boundary. This said, it can be underlined that the very poor state of preservation of the ichthyofauna suggests that it is, in part, undoubtably reworked from a Maastrichtian horizon. The existence of reworked material is manifest when seen in the light of the discovery, in the Lina Member, of a rolled ammonite in the form of a cobble along with a single fragment of a plesiosaur tooth. The major lacuna of post-K/T boundary deposits, which may correspond to a major part of the Paleocene, must have reconcentrated, along the Tertiary transgression base, numerous fossils eroded out of the unit lying directly below."- Herbert Thomas et al., Late Paleocene to Early Eocene marine vertebrates from the Uppermost Aruma Formation (northern Saudi Arabia): implications for the K/T transition, C.R. Acad. Sci. Paris. Sciences de la terre et des planetes/Earth and Planetary Sciences 329 (1999), pp. 905-912
"Discosaurus vetustus Leidy- The literature on this species at this point probably outweighs the specimen. The type consists of two battered centra. One, at least, was collected by M. Tuomey and presented to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia before 1856. It bears the label "Choctaw Bluff, Clarke County, Alabama", which is certainly in error: this locality is a well-known fossil site but is of Eocene age, millions of years after the extinction of plesiosaurs. Another Choctaw Bluff, in Greene County, is rich in fossil vertebrates and is of Cretaceous age (upper Eutaw and basal Mooreville). It is probably the locality from which this specimen came."- John T. Thurmond and Douglas E. Jones, "Fossil Vertebrates of Alabama" (University of Alabama Press), 1981, pg. 140
|Basilosaurus cetoides, also known as Zeuglodon cetoides|
|Discosaurus vetustus vertebrae (Choctaw Bluff specimen unidentified)|
However, this was some of the vertebrae and not all: Leidy did think the other vertebrae were legitimate and were of that genus, and probably related to that. However, it seems that both genus names are invalid. 'Cimoliasaurus' has been described as a 'garbage taxon' and several nondescript fossils from Europe and Australia have also been ascribed to this genus, much in the same way as the early tendency to call all early canivorous dinosaur finds 'Megalosaurus'. http://www.palaeos.com/Vertebrates/Units/220Lepidosauromorpha/220.820.html
In this case the really interesting thing is that the New Jersey fragmentary Plesiosaur is found in association with Pliocene dolphin fossils, mixed up together and only separated out
later, and the Alabama fossils Leidy considered probably the same genus are labeled as coming from the Eocene Zeuglodon beds. In the case of the New Jersey Greensands, there is independent evidence that they are not only Cretaceous but also Tertiary: another site gives a paper in which several genera of O. C. Marsh's 'Cretaceous' birds from the New Jersey Greensands are actually of Eocene date or later.
The characteristics of these fossils has placed them tentatively in the same family as Cryptocleidus and Muraenosaurus, and they were thought to have been like the Elasmosaurs but with shorter necks. This is also along the lines of what the surviving Plesiosaurs would have to have been to give rise to our Long-necked Sea-serpents: long-necked, but not excessively long-necked, not so specialised as the extreme Elasmosaurs, and generalized enough to be versatile, possibly enough so that they could pursue other avenues of evolution that became open to them. That makes a good deal of sense and I am willing to arrange the theory of Plesiosaurian survival on those terms alone."- Dale Drinnon, On "Discosaurus" and the possibility of Plesiosaurian Survival, Frontiers of Zoology Blog, Jan.8, 2010, www.forteanzoology.blogspot.com/2010/01/dale-drinnon-on–discosaurus-and.html
|Cimoliasaurus magnus vertebrae|
"Plesiosaurus sp." vertebrae, after Richard Harlan 1825, reclassified as the whale Priscodelphinus harlani by Joseph Leidy in 1851
|-Joseph Leidy, Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Vol. 7 (1869), pg.433|
- Joseph Leidy, Cretaceous Reptiles of the United States, Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge 192,Vol. 14 (1865), pp. 1-2
proceedings of which, volume six, numbers 9-10, were published prior to 5 September 1853, the date on which the Smithsonian Institution acknowledged receipt of this issue, according to Nolan, 1913:xi), Leidy (1853b) reported upon a new species of fossil seal, the complete text of which follows: ‘Mr. Conrad has presented me with an outline drawing (of which the accompanying wood engraving is a copy,) of a tooth, discovered by Mr. Samuel A. Wetherill in the green sand, of the Cretaceous series, near Burlington, New Jersey. The specimen was given to Mr. Conrad, who made the drawing indicated, and afterwards loaned it to an acquaintance, from whom he has not been able to obtain it again. The figure represents a double-fanged tooth, with a crown divided into five prominent lobes. It is, without doubt, the tooth of a mammal, and resembles very much one of the posterior molars of Stenorhynchus serridens, Owen [—Lobodon carcinophagus], an animal of the seal tribe. It may have belonged to a cetacean allied to Basilosaurus, but until further evidence is obtained, I propose to call the species indicated by the tooth Stenorhynchus vetus.’
|(from Ray 1976)|
- J. A. Allen, History of North American Pinnipeds, U. S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories Miscellaneous Publications Volume 12 (1880), pg.476
Photographs and sketches of the vertebra from Wismar. (A) Vertebra in lateral view. (B) Neural arch in anterior view with deep oblong groove. (C) Sketch of a plesiosaur with the proposed position of the vertebra. Fo fossa, Gro groove, NS neural spine, PoZ postzygapophysis, PreZ prezygapophysis, TP transverse process. Scale bars 2 cm. (from Foth et al. 2011)
Map of northeast Germany and southern Scandinavia (modified after Christensen 1986; Gravesen 1993). The locality of the vertebra is close to the German town of Wismar. The source area of the geschiebe is probably the Upper Cretaceous sediments of southern Sweden. (from Foth et al. 2011)
"The majority of modern lowland British rivers occupy valleys that were cut and partially infilled by gravel sequences during the Devensian (=Weichselian) Stage."- Devensian (Weichselian) Late-glacial - Holocene (Flandrian) fluvial sequence as an analogue, Quaternary Palaeoenvironments Group, University of Cambridge, www.qpg.geog.cam.ac.uk/
Skeleton of a leopard frog (Rana pipiens) from Champlain Sea deposits (ca. 10 000 BP) near Eardley, Quebec. It is preserved inside a calcareous nodule glacial erratic. The Champlain Sea (approx. 12.5 to 10 Kya) was the marine predecessor of Lake Champlain, a North American lake with a similar geologic history and contemporary ‘lake monster’ tradition to Loch Ness. (from Andrew R.C. Milner and Michael J. Ryan, LATE PLEISTOCENE VERTEBRATES ALONG THE NORTHWESTERN MARGIN OF THE CHAMPLAIN SEA, Field Trip Guidebook for 66th Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, October 17, 2006)
Secondly, it didn’t originate in the loch. As the NMS staff, and also Matt Dale of ‘Mr. Wood’s Fossils’ in Edinburgh, spotted, its general appearance, and the presence of holes made by burrowing sponges, show that it has spent some time in the sea, probably as a beach pebble on a coastal outcrop such as the Jurassic of the Moray Firth coast, or somewhere further afield. Yet Loch Ness is fresh water.
I have not had the chance to examine the specimen myself, and have to rely on the photographs published in the popular press (all of which show the specimen upside-down, by the way). It is an articulated series of what look like dorsal or very worn cervical vertebrae. The zygapophyses seem rather low and flat, and the rims of the articular faces rather rounded. The specimen is heavily water-worn, and a lot of surface detail appears to have been lost.
If there is any mystery about the specimen, it is how it ended up in Loch Ness. Natural transport as a glacial erratic is unlikely given the distribution of the nearest Jurassic strata, say the NMS staff, who have been diplomatically noncommittal about how it got there.
A deliberate hoax has been suggested by several people in the media. There is indeed a long history of hoaxes associated with the Loch Ness ‘monster’ phenomenon, and some perpetrator may well have been willing to waste money probably to no effect. Finds of plesiosaur bones are not very common, and it would take someone who knew something about vertebrate paleontology to recognize them as such at the first finding and, after the specimen was put in Loch Ness, to take the risk that nobody would find it. There is no suggestion that Mr. McSorley was knowingly involved in any such deception. Indeed, the newspaper reports quote him as cleaning off ‘about an inch of green algae’ which suggests it had been lying in the water of the loch for some time. It was, moreover, sheer luck that Mr. McSorley happened to find it when a Dutch tourist, who knew his fossils, was standing by. It would be possible to buy such fossils- I’d guess a specimen of this kind could sell for a couple of hundred pounds. This would make it a rather expensive, and very shallow, deception.
However, a credible alternative is that the fossil was used as a demo piece for tour groups to show what real plesiosaur bones look like, and was left behind by accident one day. This actually happened before, in the case of a plesiosaurian limb bone in the 1980’s. It will be interesting to watch the story develop."- Richard Forrest, The Loch Ness Plesiosaur, The Plesiosaur Site, www.plesiosaur.com/plesiosaurs/lochnessplesiosaur.php
|Gerald McSorley and Loch Ness plesiosaur vertebrae|
" ‘The fossil is embedded in a gray, Jurassic-aged limestone. Rocks in the Loch Ness area are much older- they’re all crystalline, igneous and metamorphic rocks’. (Lyall) Anderson (NMS) says the nearest match is at Eathie on the Black Isle, some 30 miles (50 kilometers) northeast of Loch Ness".- Loch Ness Sea Monster Fossil a Hoax, Say Scientists, National Geographic News, July 29, 2003
(Editor’s note: Though limestone is usually associated in people’s mind with the Mesozoic era, late Quaternary limestone deposits are known. The sand deposits in Fort Augustus from late Quaternary flooding, in combination with carbonates from the shells of marine invertebrates from Loch Ness’s interglacial and post-glacial marine phases, could theoretically have produced a sandstone or limestone matrix around a Quaternary-aged fossil.)
"The 260 m ice-dammed lake in glens Spean and Roy finally attained a volume of 5 km3. It is suggested that it was initially drained subglacially and catastrophically through the Spean gorge and Loch Ness. Maximal flow of water may have been about 22,500m3s-'. InGlen Spean the ice dam, 7 km long and up to 200 m high, collapsed. Near Fort Augustus a vast deposit of sand and gravel was laid down in relation to a Loch Ness suddenly raised in level. Subsequently, the level of the Spean-Roy lake varied constantly as it was intermittently emptied by other sudden floods of lesser volume, some of which followed the Lundy gorge and one of which produced a now abandoned waterfall site near Loch Lochy. Some of these events are related to the formation of end moraines and fluvial terraces in the area around Spean Bridge and Gairlochy."- J. B. Sissons, Catastrophic lake drainage in Glen Spean and the Great Glen, Scotland, Journal of the Geological Society of London 136(1979), pp. 215-224
"As a setting for the reporting of our additional findings, we first call attention to the earlier-mentioned evidence of others that the previous Great Ice Age of Europe had receded over a hundred thousand years ago and left a long interglacial period until the development of the most recent glacier. This may be highly significant to our further disclosure that, by aminoacid reaction-rate dating, Boomer et al. (2002) have reported and verified under different temperature hypotheses, that the ancient sea-bed-matrix material we recovered appears, indeed, also to be coincidentally in the range of about 125,000 years old! In trying to reconcile the order-of-magnitude difference in this dating from the 14C dating, we observe that while the aminoacid results are known to be beyond the range of 14C dating, is it conceivable that the younger dating could result from some phenomenon such as the re-precipitation of shell carbonates?"- Robert H. Rines and Frank M. Dougherty, Proof Positive—Loch Ness Was an Ancient Arm of the Sea, Journal of Scientific Exploration 17(2) (2003), pp. 317–323
"The glacial deposits at the Boyne Bay Limestone Quarry near Portsoy, a key Quaternary Site of Special Scientific Interest, comprise (i) a sandy, partly weathered diamicton (Craig of Boyne Till Formation, CBTF) resting on decomposed bedrock, (ii) a central, variably glaciotectonised assemblage of dark clay, diamicton and sand, with rafts of sand and weathered diamicton (Whitehills Glacigenic Formation, WGF), and (iii) an upper dark sandy diamicton (Old Hythe Till Formation, OHTF). The CBTF was probably derived from the west or southwest, and the WGF from seawards. Structures within the OHTF conform to deposition by east- or southeast-moving ice from the Moray Firth, but some erratics indicate derivation from the south. The CBTF is believed to pre-date the last (lpswichian) interglacial, but the WGF and OHTF both post-date the early Middle Devensian, and are probably of Late Devensian age. It is proposed that the OHTF was deposited by ice from inland which was directed eastwards near the coast by a vigorous glacier in the Moray Firth, and that the complex, Late Devensian glacial history of the south coast of the Moray Firth as a whole is the result of the interplay of these two contemporary ice-masses."- J. Douglas Peacock and Jon W. Merritt, Glacial deposits at the Boyne Bay Limestone Quarry, Portsoy, and their place in the late Pleistocene history of northeast Scotland, Journal of Quaternary Science 15 (5) (2000), pp.543-555
"The diagenetic history of the pre-LGM (Last Glacial Maximum) limestone from the core by IODP Expedition 310 was investigated texturally and geochemically. The limestone is mostly deposited in reef front and fore-reef settings and mostly composed of corals, coralline algae, and microbialites with a minor contribution of green algae, mollusks, and echinoderm fragments. Relatively high abundance of microbialites is the quite distinctive feature, compared to other reefal sediments described elsewhere. Texturally, shallow marine cements are characterized by acicular and botryoidal aragonite and druse HMC, and equant LMC cements of meteoric origin are relatively rare. Presence of LMC equant cements appears to be facies-controlled, thus is dependant upon the nature of substrates. It appears that the limestone was mostly subjected to vadose meteoric diagenesis during the last glacial period. The fibrous HMC cements in vuggy pores together with their oxygen isotopic compositions and textural evidence suggest that the limestone was subaerially exposed during the last glacial period and resubmerged during deglaciation. Stable isotopic and trace elemental analyses were carried out for microbialites that were originally composed of HMC. Oxygen isotopic compositions and Fe and Sr contents of pre-LGM microbialites are clearly distinguished from those of post-LGM limestone. This suggests that the limestone had undergone meteoric diagenesis in the different diagenetic system, depending upon the magnitude of the partition coefficients of trace elements. No clear difference between unaltered (post-LGM) and altered (pre-LGM) limestone was observed for Mn, Mg, and carbon isotope, indicating a closed diagenetic system. However, the diagenetic system was semi-open with respect to Sr and oxygen isotope. In addition, enriched carbon isotopic compositions of the pre-LGM limestone may imply that vegetation cover was negligible for the formation of paleosol layers. This is also supported by poorly preserved unconformity surface with an absence of paleosol layers within the core."- Kyung Sik Woo et al., Carbonate diagenesis of the Late Pleistocene limestone of the Faaa M0020A core: IODP Expedition 310, Tahiti Sea Level Change, Geosciences Journal 14(2) (2010),pp. 225-234
"The ‘molluscs in muddy sand with occasional corals’ particularly Manicina areolata, represent the Thalassia community that is still common to the Belize lagoons (e.g. Macintyre et al., 2000). Thus although this Pleistocene limestone has been greatly altered and much of the original texture lost in our cores, it appears that the Holocene mangroves of Twin Cays became established on a Pleistocene substrate formed by lagoonal accumulations of branching Porites moundsand Thalassia beds, when this substrate was flooded by the Holocene Transgression."- IAN G. MACINTYRE and MARGUERITE A. TOSCANO, THE PLEISTOCENE LIMESTONE FOUNDATION BELOW TWIN CAYS, BELIZE, CENTRAL AMERICA, ATOLL RESEARCH BULLETIN NO. 511, ISSUED BY NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION
WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. SEPTEMBER 2004
(Editor’s note: If sea urchins existed in Loch Ness during it’s marine period, I see no reason why burrowing sponges could not have been there, as well. Sponges were certainly in the Champlain Sea, a close analogue to a marine Loch Ness.)
Tethya logani, a fossil sponge in unconsolidated Champlain Sea matrix from Montréal, Québec (unnumbered Redpath Museum specimen) (from Andrew R.C. Milner and Michael J. Ryan, LATE PLEISTOCENE VERTEBRATES ALONG THE NORTHWESTERN MARGIN OF THE CHAMPLAIN SEA, Field Trip Guidebook for 66th Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, October 17, 2006)
Champlain Sea bivalve mollusk fossils resembling contemporary Loch Ness clam fossils (from Andrew R.C. Milner and Michael J. Ryan, LATE PLEISTOCENE VERTEBRATES ALONG THE NORTHWESTERN MARGIN OF THE CHAMPLAIN SEA, Field Trip Guidebook for 66th Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, October 17, 2006)
"Nearly all fossilized bone is recrystallized after burial; however, the durations of recrystallization are typically poorly constrained. Modeled durations range from hundreds to millions of years (Herwartz et al., 2011; Koenig et al., 2009, and references therein)."- Alan E. Koenig et al., Direct U-Pb dating of Cretaceous and Paleocene dinosaur bones, San Juan Basin, New Mexico: COMMENT, Geology 40 (2012), pg. 262
Map of the upper Mississippi River basin the estimated pre-Illinoian (light gray), the estimated Illinoian (gray) and the Wisconsinan maximum limits of glacial expansion (dark gray).[Figure modified from Hobbs (1999) with permission from the Geological Society of America. From Berendzen et al. 2010.)
"Yes, a plesiosaur bone is known from glacial materials in Iowa, but it has not been described in the literature. The paleontology collections at the University of Iowa labeled as a plesiosaur metacarpal derived from glacial gravels on the south edge of Iowa City. These gravels are largely reworked from pre-Illinoian glacial deposits in the area (tills about 1 million years old)."-Email from Brian Witzke, Iowa Geological Survey, to Scott Mardis, editor, dated Jan. 21, 2011
Front flipper of the plesiosaur Terminonatator ponteixensis. The bones marked mc I-V are metacarpals. From Tamaki Sato, Terminonatator ponteixensis, a New Elasmosaur (Reptilia; Sauropterygia) from the Upper Cretaceous of Saskatchewan, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 23 (1) (2003), pp.89-103
|Red dot: approximate location of find of plesiosaur metacarpal in pre- Illinoian glacial till in Iowa|
(Map B of the "Nebraskan" glacial stage corresponds to the current "pre-illinoian" glacial stage classification and would represent an approximation of the drainage patterns in Iowa relative to the Gulf of Mexico during the pre-Illinoian glacial cycles roughly contemporaneous to the timing of deposition of the Iowa plesiosaur metacarpal. From Frank B. Cross, Richard L. Mayden and J. D. Stewart, Fishes in the Western Mississippi Basin: Missouri, Arkansas and Red Rivers, 1986)
The outwash materials from the ice overloaded the streams, causing them to aggrade their beds with the sands and gravels carried by the glacial waters. Into the same beds were swept invertebrate remains from the valley sides and from the scoured parts of the stream channel. There were also carried in such remains of vertebrate animals as were left within reach of the flood waters from the Ice."- George F. Kay and Earl T. Apfel, THE PRE· ILLINOIAN PLEISTOCENE GEOLOGY OF IOWA
Anomalous marine mammal fossils map with red dot representing location of find of Iowa pre-Illinoian plesiosaur metacarpal, modified from Williams and Domning 2004 and Dorr and Eschman 1970
Map of the Laurentide Ice Sheet margin (dashed line) at 11.5 ka (Dyke et al., 2003), showing the locations of the Champlain Sea and proglacial lakes Agassiz and Algonquin (grey areas). Port Huron and North Bay are possible routes for freshwater outflow to the Champlain Sea. The chronology and inter-basin correlation of proglacial lake and marine phases is poorly understood. Sediment cores from Folger Trough (this study) and parts of southern Quebec and Ontario (labeled Q–O) (Guilbault, 1989, 1993) record basin-wide salinity changes in the Champlain Sea. NW = MacKenzie River outlet for Lake Agassiz; S = southern outlet through Mississippi River, North Bay and Port Huron = eastern outlets towards Champlain Sea and St. Lawrence Estuary. Glacial lakes adopted from Teller et al. (2002) and other references in text. From T.M. Cronin et al., Impacts of post-glacial lake drainage events and revised chronology of the Champlain Sea episode 13–9 ka, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 262 (2008), pp. 46–60
|Beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) skeleton from Champlain Sea deposits at Charlotte, Vt. on the shores of Lake Champlain|
Known localities and radiocarbon ages of Champlain Sea white whale fossils (Harington, 1988; Steadman et al., 1994; this paper). The black star marks the Saint-Felix-de-Valois fossil locality. Key: 1. Pakenham, Ontario [CMN 21336; 10 400 ± 80 BP (GSC2418)];2.Ottawa,Ontario (CMN 8883); 3. Rideau Junction, Ontario(CMN 17628); 4. Ottawa, Ontario (CMN 8884); 5. Jock River, Ontario(CMN 421); 6. Ottawa, Ontario (CMN 2219); 7. Ottawa, Ontario [collected in 1956, in N.R. Gadd collection; 10 420 ± 150 BP (GSC-454)];8. Norfolk, New York [NYSM 5095; 10 450 ± 140 BP (Beta-25252)];9. Cornwall, Ontario (CMN 6842); 10. Williamstown, Ontario (RM12734); 11. Coteau Station, Quebec (present location unknown);12. Montreal, Quebec (RM, catalogue number unknown); 13. Montreal,Quebec (CMN 6833); 14. Montreal, Quebec (RM 12732); 15. Montreal,Quebec (catalogue number unknown); 16. Montreal, Quebec (RM 13831); 17. Saint-Felix-de-Valois, Quebec [SPQ 100; 10 700 ± 90 BP (TO-9996)]; 18.Charlotte, Vermont (catalogue number unknown); 19. Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Quebec [(CMN uncatalogued; 9470 ± 170 BP(Beta-27511)]; 20. Saint-Cesaire, Quebec (CMN 52544); 21. Saint Nicolas, Quebec (CMN 12432). From C.R. Harington et al., FELIX: A LATE PLEISTOCENE WHITE WHALE (DELPHINAPTERUS LEUCAS) SKELETON FROM CHAMPLAIN SEA DEPOSITS AT SAINT-FELIX-DE-VALOIS,QUEBEC, Geographie physique et Quaternaire 60 (2) (2006), pp.183-198 Champlain Sea
|Champlain Sea pinniped fossils (photos from various sources)|