ANCHORAGE - Fossils of a large extinct marine reptile have been uncovered in a rugged area near Eureka, the first discovery of these ancient creatures in the region, according to a scientist at the University of Alaska Museum.
"We know it's either a mosasaur or a plesiosaur," said vertebrate paleontologist Kevin May. "It's a big deal any way you cut it."
During two visits to the site in the Talkeetna Mountains last summer, May retrieved rocks containing vertebrae, a possible portion of a flipper and other ancient bone embedded in rock. A much larger piece remained lodged in the earth. May hopes to return next year for a larger excavation.
"This thing's going to be more than 10 feet long," May said. "We're going to have to go in there with jackhammers. It's in a rock face on the side of the mountain."
The fossil was discovered in 2001 by Bob Wilk, an amateur paleontologist and schoolteacher from Dallas. Wilk was searching for fossils of clams and squidlike animals when he pulled out several chunks of what appeared to be bone.
"It was like finding a needle in a haystack," Wilk said at the time.
Getting a positive identification of the animal will be difficult until May works more on the rock samples. A key will be dating fossil shellfish found nearby.
Several Outside specialists in marine reptiles have told May the material appears to be from a mosasaur, an aquatic lizard that lived between 65 million and 136 million years ago. None has ever been found in Alaska before.
Finding a plesiosaur would be just as exciting, May said. The only known Alaska sample was found 80 years ago on the Alaska Peninsula.