Kraken lair? Paleontologist identifies giant sea monster's bone heap.
Kraken lair: A paleontologist says that the arrangement of and markings on bones of giant sea creatures in a Nevada desert indicates that they were devoured by a giant mollusc.
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"I was aware that anytime there is controversy about depth, there is probably something interesting going on," McMenamin said. And when he and his daughter arrived at the park, they were struck by the remains' strangeness, particularly "a very odd configuration of bones."Skip to next paragraph
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The etching on the bones suggested the shonisaurs were not all killed and buried at the same time, he said. It also looked like the bones had been purposefully rearranged, likely carried to the "kraken's lair" after they had been killed. A similar behavior has been seen in modern octopus.
The markings and rearrangement of the S. popularis bones suggests an octopus-like creature (like a kraken) either drowned the ichthyosaurs or broke their necks, according to McMenamin.
The arranged vertebrae also seemed to resemble the pattern of sucker disks on a cephalopod's tentacle, with each vertebra strongly resembling a sucker made by a member of the Coleoidea, which includes octopuses, squid, cuttlefish and their relatives. The researchers suggest this pattern reveals a self-portrait of the mysterious beast.
The perfect crime?
Next, McMenamin wondered if an octopus-like creature could realistically have taken out the huge swimming predatory reptiles. Evidence is in their favor, it seems. Video taken by staff at the Seattle Aquarium showed that a large octopus in one of their large tanks had been killing the sharks. [On the Brink: A Gallery of Wild Sharks]
"It would have been very similar to the way that the Pacific Octopus was killing sharks at the Seattle Aquarium, the main difference being that the animals were scaled up to enormous size," McMenamin told LiveScience, adding that, "ichthyosaurs are air breathers and can be drowned."
McMenamin said. More supporting evidence: There were many more broken ribs seen in the shonisaur fossils than would seem accidental, as well as evidence of twisted necks.
"It was either drowning them or breaking their necks," McMenamin said.
So where did this kraken go? Since octopuses are mostly soft-bodied they don't fossilize well and scientists wouldn't expect to find their remains from so long ago. Only their beaks, or mouthparts, are hard and the chances of those being preserved nearby are very low, according to the researchers.
With such circumstanial evidence of "the crime," McMenamin expects his interpretation will draw skeptics. And, in fact, it has. Brian Switek, a research associate at the New Jersey State Museum, writing for Wired.com, is extremely skeptical, writing, "The McMenamins' entire case is based on peculiar inferences about the site. It is a case of reading the scattered bones as if they were tea leaves able to tell someone’s fortune. Rather than being distributed through the bonebed by natural processes related to decay and preservation, the McMenamins argue that the Shonisaurus bones were intentionally arrayed in a 'midden' by a huge cephalopod nearly 100 feet long." (McMenamin worked with his wife, Dianna Schulte McMenamin on the study.)
As for how McMenamin would respond to critics: "We're ready for this. We have a very good case," he said.
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