Gerry Peters has been collecting fossils on the Manitoba Escarpment since he was a boy.
The self-avowed fossil prospector, now employed as a Field and Lab technician with the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre (CFDC) in Morden, recently uncovered a new Mosasaur, the second to be found this season at the centre's dig site.
Mosasaurs are part of a group of extinct, large marine reptiles from the Late Cretaceous period.
Peters discovered the second Mosasaur while using a tractor to dig a draining ditch in an area that looked promising for fossils.
"As I was going along, I scraped the top of a Mosasaur vertebrae. I didn't know what it was at the time, but I saw instantly the different colour. Fossils just stand out, if you know what to look for. I shut off the tractor, and jumped down and looked, brushed away a little bit and there was a Mosasaur vertebrae. And right beside it another one. And beside that another one. And then beside that another one, right all within about a foot of each other. That was really exciting. I knew there was a good chance there's a lot more. I stopped excavating, because I knew I had something of significance."
The site of the new fossil was only a meter from a sheer cliff, a possible concern come springtime.
"In fall we took out the ones that were kind of on the surface, ones that were in danger of washing away. I think [there were] about three dozen bones we took out, and at the same time, a bunch of pieces of the skull - a piece of the jaw with teeth and that type of thing. We have 24 pieces of the tail, 24 individual backbone or vertebrae right next to pieces of the head, so it's probably kind of curled up, in a death position, I guess. Hopefully, when we go back next year, we'll find the rest of the ring of the Mosasaur. We didn't find anything like ribs or the paddles or anything, so hopefully that's all for us to discover next year."
Peters says the latest reptile is similar in size to the first Mosasaur found in the escarpment, the iconic Bruce.
"They're not as big as Bruce, but he's a world record, so that doesn't happen very often that you find something that big. We don't have enough yet to tell if they are from the same species or not. Guessing by the bones we're seeing, they're both probably around 20, 25 feet long, something in that range, which is - it's a big reptile. You wouldn't want to go swimming with it, about half the length of Bruce, who's 43 feet long. It's super exciting though, just to find something like that. Nobody has ever seen these bones before. They were in really nice shape so that there's something to actually study."
The discovery is good for both aspects of the Morden-based Museum, pointed out Peters.
"There's our scientific research. Then we have our displays which goes with the tourism. This particular mosasaur kind of fits into both categories there. We can do research on it, because it's nicely preserved, and there's a lot of it there, more to be discovered, I'm sure. Plus, it's something very visual. If you go out, and if you're working on a dig site, these bones, they average the size of your fist for each one of the vertebrae, maybe a bit bigger. It looks like a bone, not some bizarre looking fossil that only a paleontologist might recognize. Anybody who would dig out one of these would instantly recognize it as a definite bone from some huge ancient beast."
Finding bones in this such good condition makes the find even more significant.
The site holds further promise as the new fossils extend into the hillside.
Peters says the CFDC will do most of the excavation of the second Mosasaur next year.
With files from Robyn Wiebe
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