Marine fossils in Manitoba prairie

The town of Morden, Manitoba is about as far as far away as you can get from the ocean in Canada, but it's fast becoming a world famous destination for finding marine fossils.

It has its own fossil museum, and there have been several highly successful digs in the area. Remains of prehistoric birds, turtles, sharks and squid have been turning up all around the town.

It may seem strange to find aquatic life there now, but millions of years ago, Morden, and the rest of Manitoba was underneath a vast inland sea. That sea was teeming with giant reptiles.

One such creature was the mosasaur a long-bodied, air-breathing, flesh-eating lizard. Alive during the Cretaceous period, it resembled a modern alligator, but only superficially. The monitor lizard of Asia and Africa is actually the mosasaur's closest living relative.

The average mosasaur measured from three to six metres in length, but some, like the largest specimen at the Morden museum, measured some 15 metres from its toothy snout to the tip of its tail.

Local mining and natural erosion first exposed the fossils in the 1940s. The museum has been collecting ever since, and has one of the largest collections of this kind in Canada.

Only five per cent of the fossils are actually on display in the museum. The rest are in storage, or travelling the world in exhibits.

Museum caretakers say they just want to make sure the fossils are out of the ground and safe from bulldozers and erosion. They estimate cataloguing all the fossils found so far will take at least 50 years.