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Archive for the ‘Monsters’ Category

Monstertalk Podcast – The Plesiosaur Hypothesis

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Monstertalk is a new sceptical podcast focussing on all things cryptozoological. The most recent episode (episode 004) delves into the idea that plesiosaurs may still be alive today, lurking in lochs and lakes around the world – the so called Plesiosaur Hypothesis.  I was interviewed as a guest on this episode and took part in a long discussion about plesiosaur palaeobiology. I’ll admit that I was hesitant to be interviewed at first because I don’t want to get too bogged down or involved in the living plesiosaurs ‘debate’.

MonsterTalk logo

The word debate goes into inverted commas because very few cryptozoologists really take the plesiosaur hypothesis seriously, any discussion on the topic is less of a debate and more of a debunk. The plesiosaur hypothesis is really only pushed by 1. the occasional fundamentalist creationist under the (false) impression that a living plesiosaur would somehow discredit evolution (which it obviously wouldn’t), and 2. the media. The media’s fascination with Nessie is especially irksome, no plesiosaur-based science news story in the popular press is self explanatory or interesting enough, it seems, without the inevitable comparison with a fabled creature that doesn’t look like a plesiosaur anyway. This perpetuates the public’s only frame of reference for plesiosaurs as Nessie and does nothing for palaeontology and even less for science education.

Loch Ness Monster hoax

It was partly with this in mind that I decided to accept the invitation to be interviewed on Monstertalk, but moreover it was an excellent opportunity  to talk about plesiosaur palaeontology and the real mysteries surrounding these fascinating creatures. Far more interesting than those mythical lake monsters I think, and I hope that’s how the podcast came across. I enjoyed the experience although I still haven’t had the courage to listen to myself twittering on. This episode is available to download as a free MP3 here: http://traffic.libsyn.com/skeptic/004_Monstertalk.mp3 and the show notes are here: http://www.skeptic.com/podcasts/monstertalk/09/08/24/. I highly recommend listening to the other episodes too. Enjoy!

Written by Adam S. Smith

September 5th, 2009 at 9:00 pm

‘Sea Monsters – Prehistoric Creatures of the Deep’ book review

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I recently read and reviewed Mike Everhart’s new book for the online Journal Palaeontologica Electronica, I reproduce it here:

Sea Monsters book

Sea Monsters – Prehistoric Creatures of the Deep, is the official companion to the recently released IMAX movie of the same name. As Everhart explains in the preface to this book (and in the final chapter), both the movie and this book have their roots in the ‘Sea Monsters’ cover story featured in the December 2005 issue of National Geographic Magazine. The story introduced readers to Mesozoic marine reptiles, presenting information on a wide range of species throughout the Mesozoic Era, and from fossil locations all around the world. For the purposes of the movie, it was necessary to select a single geographical location and point in time. As scientific consultant to the Movie, Everhart sold the ‘Oceans of Kansas’ as the perfect setting for the movie; after all, Late Cretaceous seas were “probably the most dangerous seas ever on this planet”. And so it was that The Western Interior Seaway and many of its ferocious inhabitants were resurrected on the (very!) big screen. Sea Monsters, the book, allows readers to dig a little deeper into the history and science behind the movie.

Sea Monsters is a large format and highly visual volume. As one would expect from a National Geographic publication and official companion to a 3D movie, the selling point of this book is the imagery. Each of the 191 glossy pages in this book feature stills from the movie, numerous computer-generated artworks (including reproductions of those presented in the 2006 National Geographic Magazine cover story), historical photographs and photographs/illustrations of fossils and skeletons. For the most exciting visuals, however, don the complimentary pair of 3D glasses (to be found in a pouch on the inside back cover) and open up the 3D sections: between each chapter is a selection of three-dimensional stills from the movie, many of which occupy double-page spreads.

Chapter one asks: “what is a sea monster?” The question isn’t really answered (there is no meaningful answer), but allows Everhart to divulge into the diversity of prehistoric marine reptiles, with short sections on the origins and habits of ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, turtles, and mosasaurs; and to outline their place in prehistory. The end of this chapter focuses on the Western Interior Seaway, setting the scene for some of the following chapters, which will describe the environment and food webs of the Late Cretaceous period. Chapter two looks at the historical context of marine reptiles, and in particular, the major scientists and ‘fossil finders’ involved in the discovery of the many creatures preserved in the deposits of the Western Interior Seaway. Chapter three reviews the fauna – all of the key ‘characters’ in the movie are outlined and illustrated. Chapter five provides an overview of the extinction theories proposed to explain the disappearance of many of the groups 65 million years ago. The last chapter comprises a ‘making of’ section. Much like Sternberg’s famous fossil fish within a fish, nestled amongst each chapter are short self-contained sections; these ‘Close Up’ and ‘Album’ sections provide a little more detail, or a ‘case study’, on some aspect mentioned in passing in the main text.

The scientific content is basic and aimed towards a popular adult audience. Although a separate children’s book is also available (Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure
by Marfe Delano Ferguson), the style and depth of text in Sea Monsters- Prehistoric Creatures of the Deep, is certainly accessible to older children. The tone of the book is in keeping with the aims of the movie, to simultaneously entertain and educate. Marine reptiles have long been overlooked and overshadowed by dinosaurs in vertebrate palaeontology books and children’s books on prehistoric life, but this is slowly changing: look out dinosaurs, here come the sea monsters!

The book is available from Amazon for a very reasonable price.

Sea Monsters – Prehistoric Creatures of the Deep
By Michael J. Everhart

Written by Adam S. Smith

December 5th, 2007 at 12:17 pm

Arctic pliosaur is new species

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Another giant pliosauroid plesiosaur fossil from Arctic Svalbard Islands appears to represent a new species. The specimen was discovered and initial excavations took place in Summer 2007. The treasure trove of marine reptile fossils were first discovered in 2006 by a team from the University of Oslo, Natural History Museum, led by Dr. Jørn Hurum and Hans Arne Nakrem; they discovered ichthyosaurs and a large pliosaur, which became known as the ‘Monster’ in the popular press. The new pliosaur was uncovered when the team returned to the locality – it seems to be the same species as the original ‘Monster’. The collected parts of the fossil include teeth, skull fragments and vertebrae, but the specimen is only partly uncovered and so the dig will continue next year. A more detailed review of the findings will also be presented next year.

arctic pliosaur

Image by Tor Sponga, copyright Natural History Museum, University of Oslo, Norway

Written by Adam S. Smith

December 5th, 2007 at 12:08 pm

‘Sea Monsters’ movie released

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The newest film offering from National Geographic opened to 78 IMAX theaters across the United States, the largest ever opening for an IMAX movie. ‘Sea Monsters’ is set in the Late Cretaceous Western Interior Sea, and follows the journey of a growing Dolichorhynchops. The official website is now complete and up and running.

Written by Adam S. Smith

October 6th, 2007 at 12:28 pm