EACH summer, a team from the University of Oslo in Norway go hunting for monsters on the island of Spitsbergen. They carry guns in case they get menaced by the world's largest living land carnivore, the polar bear. But it is not bears they are after. They are searching for much bigger quarry, the most formidable predators that ever lived.
Step back 150 million years and Spitsbergen was covered by a cool, shallow sea swarming with marine reptiles. The creatures died out and their fossils became part of an island stuffed full of bones. Nowhere else in the world are so many marine reptiles found in one place.
For a few short weeks the sun never sets and temperatures soar to just above freezing. Knowing that before long the ground will be frozen solid, the researchers dig like crazy. "It's like a gold rush, there are so many fossils waiting to be found," says team leader Jørn Hurum. "The site is densely packed with skeletons. As we speak there are probably more than 1000 skeletons weathering out."
Monsters of the deep
(Nigel Hawtin/New Scientist)
Real sea monsters: The hunt for predator X
Espen M. Knutsen, Patrick S. Druckenmiller & Jørn H. Hurum (2012) A new species of Pliosaurus (Sauropterygia: Plesiosauria) from the Middle Volgian of central Spitsbergen, Norway. Norwegian Journal of Geology. 92 (2-3): 235-258.