T-Rex of the sea unearthed in Manitoba

Manitoba paleontologists have unearthed the bones of a prehistoric sea creature approximatley 80 million years old.
The dig site in southern Manitoba has uncovered mosasaurs, prehistoric squid and bird fossils, giving scientists new insight into what Western Canada looked like 80 million years ago. (Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre)

Manitoba paleontologists have unearthed the bones of a prehistoric sea creature approximately 80 million years old.

Scientists from the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in Morden, Man., have dug up two mosasaurs, a huge reptile known as the "T-Rex of the sea."

The dig site in southern Manitoba also uncovered a prehistoric squid and bird fossils, giving scientists new insight into what Western Canada looked like 80 million years ago.

The area has a rich history of offering up ancient sea creature fossils.

The discovery centre is already home to a 13-metre-long mosasaur fossil named Bruce, found in 1974 near Thornhill, Man. A full-scale reproduction of him is on display in the centre's museum.

In 2004, the remains of a mosasaur nicknamed Betsy were first found. Ongoing work recently revealed the back of the skull.

The bones belonging to two mosasaurs are seen at the dig site near Morden, Manitoba. (Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre)

In 2006, pieces of another mosasaur were discovered during a school dig by participants from the town of MacGregor. The specimen, nicknamed MacGregor, includes a jaw fragment, a vertebra and a rib fragment.

And in 2008, another specimen, an 11-metre-long mosasaur nicknamed Angus, was found just north of where Bruce was located. It is still being excavated.

In 2010, crews unearthed yet another mosasaur. They returned to the site this summer and during the excavation process they uncovered the latest one.

Mosasaurs were air-breathing, scaly skinned, flesh-eating lizards that swam in an inland sea during the Cretaceous Period, between 65 million and 135 million years ago, centre officials said. While they resemble modern alligators, the monitor lizard of Asia and Africa is considered its closest living relative.

They were named after the Meuse River in Europe, near where the first mosasaur discoveries were made.

Significant find

Curator Anita Janzic said the new find is significant because the discovery of some shore bird fossils seems to contradict the idea that much of the Prairies was under water at the time.

She said they expect to keep working at the southwestern Manitoba dig site for several years and will write up their findings for academic journals.

"We are finding layer upon layer of exciting fossil discoveries," she said, adding it is amazing how one small dig site is producing such an abundance of diverse fossils.

The excavation also has geologists buzzing about the appearance of a previously unseen rock layer for southern Manitoba.

"This dig site is showcasing the most exciting five inches of rock that I’ve ever witnessed," said assistant curator Joseph Hatcher.

"This small layer of rocks is suggesting a rapid change in the paleoecology and environment of prehistoric Manitoba. There is great science emerging from this dig site that has our team very excited."

With files from The Canadian Press