Historic Fossil Find in the Arctic

Biology professor Hans Larsson
Biology professor Hans Larsson

The animals that inhabit the Far North have always had a fantastic oddness to them—ungainly walruses, fearsome polar bears, mysterious narwhals. A new class of beastie has joined this menagerie: sea monsters.

Hans Larsson, Canada Research Chair in Vertebrate Paleontology at McGill, recently unearthed three marine reptile fossils that are a first in Canada’s Far North. The finds were made on Melville Island, about 1,200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle.

Larsson and his team of graduate students found fossils of ichthyosaurs, a species that had previously surfaced in far-flung locations in Asia and South and North America, but had never been discovered at Arctic latitudes. Larsson hypothesizes his find might explain the global range of the creatures, who could have migrated through the Arctic to spread around the world.

In addition to ichthyosaurs, Larsson and his team also found thalattosuchian crocodiles, a North American first for this group of animals, as well as at least two species of ocean-dwelling, long-necked plesiosaurs. As Larsson told the Toronto Star: “There are lots of neat things to find here. It just takes someone to come up and look for them.”

This research was funded by the Polar Continental Shelf Project, McGill University, the Northern Student Training Program and the Canada Research Chair program.