Plesiosaur: Ancient Sea Monster Discovered in Antarctica

Updated | Scientists have unearthed the remains of a 150 million-year-old plesiosaur in Antarctica—and it bears a striking resemblance to the legendary Scottish monster of Loch Ness. The creature is the first of its species located in Antarctica and the oldest creature ever found on the continent.

Plesiosaur Painter Heinrich Harder depicted plesiosaurs in 1916. Public Domain

Scientists found the creature’s bones at the tip of Antarctica, a two-hour helicopter ride from Argentina’s Marambio Base, according to Phys.org. At one point, this formed part of the Gondwana supercontinent, made up of Australia, New Zealand, Africa, South America, Madagascar and India.

“At this site, you can find a great diversity of fish, ammonites, some bivalves, but we did not expect to find such an ancient plesiosaur,” said paleontologist Soledad Cavalli, who is based at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council in Argentina.

"The discovery is pretty extraordinary, because the rock types at the site weren't thought conducive to the preservation of bones, like the vertebrae of this marine reptile," he added.

Enormous Ancient Carnivores

With a huge body, four powerful flippers and a long, winding neck, plesiosaurs look an awful lot like the fabled Loch Ness Monster, rumored to live in a lake in Scotland. Unfortunately for fans of the mythical creature, scientists believe Nessie, as she is affectionately known, is almost certainly fictional. The bones of ancient plesiosaurs, however, have been discovered around the world.

The first scientifically documented discovery of a plesiosaur skeleton was published in 1719 by English antiquarian William Stukeley. Since then, hundreds of fossils have helped shape scientist’s understanding of the beasts. December has been a big month for the ancient beasts, with an analysis of the oldest ever specimen reported two weeks ago.

The plesiosaur family was diverse, including a number of distinct species. The sea monsters sped through the water with four powerful flippers, catching fish in their vicious jaws. The largest stretched up to 39 feet long. 

Plesiosaur skeletons have been influencing human culture for hundreds of years. Some academics believe the bones could have inspired tales of water monsters in Native American folklore. As well as Nessie, the Ogopogo Lake monster in Lake Okanagan, Canada, and Champy in Lake Champlain, which straddles the border between Vermont and New York, all resemble the ancient creature.

The mysterious extinct beasts mingled with dinosaurs from the Jurassic period until their extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period. The last of the monsters died approximately 66 million years ago when an asteroid smashed into the Earth.

This article has been corrected to clarify that Lake Champlain borders Vermont and New York. It was also updated with more background information on the plesiosaur family.