Researchers Find Fossil of Monster

OSLO -- The fossil of a 15-meter-long "sea monster" found in Arctic Norway was the biggest of its kind known to science, with daggerlike teeth in a mouth large enough to bite a small car, researchers said Wednesday.

The 150-million-year-old pliosaur, a fierce marine reptile, was about 5 meters longer than the previous pliosaur record holder, which was found in Australia.

"It's a new species and the biggest proven pliosaur," Joern Hurum, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in Oslo who led the expedition to dig up the fossil on the archipelago of Svalbard, 1,300 kilometers from the North Pole.

"A small car could fit inside its mouth," he said, adding that the lower jaw was about 3 meters long.

"Something like a Morris Minor would fit perfectly," Hurum said, referring to a vintage British car.

The museum said pliosaurs were the top marine predators of the Jurassic era -- roughly 150 million to 200 million years ago, preying upon squidlike animals, fish and other marine reptiles.

Another type of fossil marine reptile, the ichthyosaur, was bigger, reaching up to 23 meters.

"The pliosaur is not the biggest sea monster, but it's probably the most fierce," Hurum said, adding that the fossil has jagged teeth the size of cucumbers.

"The front flipper of our pliosaur alone is 3 meters long. We've laid it out downstairs in the basement," he said.

Earlier estimates had been that the Norwegian pliosaur, popularly dubbed "The Monster," was about 12 meters long, roughly as long as Australia's kronosaurus.

The Arctic find "demonstrates that these gigantic animals inhabited the northern seas of our planet during the age of dinosaurs," said Patrick Druckenmiller of the University of Alaska Museum, who was on the expedition that found the fossil.

The Norwegian museum said it was planning to return in mid-2008 to excavate a skull and skeleton of another gigantic pliosaur recently found near "The Monster."