|Giant Sea Reptiles of the Dinosaur Age. At the Royal Tyrell Museum, Drumheller, Alberta|
I love learning about dinosaurs and the world as it was when they were alive. My book, Giant Sea Reptiles of the Dinosaur Age (Clarion Books, 2007) looks at the diversity of large reptiles that once inhabited the world’s oceans. Like the dinosaurs, they all became extinct 65 million years ago. We know about them today from their fossil remains.
|Opening pages of Giant Sea Reptiles of the Dinosaur Age|
On my recent trip to the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada I was thrilled to see up close the remains of Shonisaurus sikanniensis, the huge ichthyosaur that I wrote about in the opening pages of the book. It is huge, filling an entire room at the museum. Here's what I wrote:
|Fossil skeleton of Shonisaurus sikanniensis.|
Two hundred and twenty million years ago, in waters that covered what is now western Canada, a huge marine reptile cruised the shallow seas. Propelling itself with flat, flipper-like limbs, the 70-foot long animal hunted for shellfish and other small ocean animals, which it sucked into its long, toothless snout and swallowed. This fearsome creature was Shonisaurus sikanniensis, a species of ichthyosaur, one of several types of large sea reptiles that inhabited the world’s oceans in the Dinosaur Age.
The fossil remains of Shonisaurus sikanniensis were first discovered in 1991 when a hiker in northern British Columbia spotted some big fossil bones eroding out of the banks of the Sikanni Chief River. He reported his find to the Royal Tyrell Museum of Paleontology, in Drumheller, Alberta, where one of the curators, Dr. Elizabeth Nicholls, was an expert on prehistoric sea reptiles. She visited the site and was amazed by what she saw. The bones were bigger than those of any known marine reptile, and, incredibly, most of the skeleton was intact. The only missing parts were the hind limbs. Over the course of three summers, the fossil skeleton was dug out of the ground and transported to the museum, where it was studied and prepared for exhibit. Every part of the animal proved to be huge. The massive skull weighed more than one and a half tons, and the largest vertebrae, which measured nearly 11 inches across, were the size of dinner plates. In 2006, the giant skull of Shonisaurus sikanniensis went on display at the museum. Along with the rest of the skeleton, it will help answer questions about the appearance and lifestyle of this giant prehistoric predator and why it grew so big.
As Elizabeth Nicholls is quoted in the museum display: "The world we live in right now is just a blink in the history of life on our planet. 220 million years ago there was a tremendous diversity of life that we know so little about."
Giant Sea Reptiles of the Dinosaur Age is illustrated with beautiful detailed watercolor paintings by Laurie Caple. The book is no longer available in print, but you can look for it in your local library. It will introduce you to some of the most amazing creatures that ever swam in the oceans the world.