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Marine Fossils from Antarctica

Copyright © 2000-2009 by Mike Everhart

Created January 1, 2000; Last update 01/30/2009


Marine fossils (mostly invertebrates) have been known from Antarctica since they were first discovered by the Swedish explorer Otto Nordenskjöld on Seymour Island in 1902-1903.  According to R. Ewan Fordyce (pers. comm, 2003), the earliest reference to Antarctic fossils is Wiman, 1903.  Tommy Tyrberg (pers. comm, 2003) also provided two Wiman citations from 1905 (see below). Chatterjee et. al. (1982; 1984) reported marine reptiles and plesiosaurs from Seymour Island. Geologic work done by William Zinsmeister and others on Seymour Island raised questions about the asteroid theory of the K/T extinction.   More recently, hadrosaur remains have been reported from Vega Island. If you are wondering "Where in the world??" Vega Island and Seymour Island are located, you're not alone.  It took quite a bit of looking to find them on any map.  Click on the small map to the above left, and you will see where these islands are located relative to greater Antarctica and to "fairly close" Argentina. (NOTE: Even with that statement, I had them mislocated on the map for about 7 years before someone contacted me and pointed out the error.... the current map (above) is correct. Thank you, Peter! MJE 5/21/2008) LARGER MAP HERE

This area is particular interesting to paleontologists because it may provide evidence of a land bridge between Antarctica and other continents during the Mesozoic. The deposits have been dated as late Cretaceous to early Tertiary, and provide one of the best depositional sequences covering the K/T boundary to be found anywhere on the planet.  In January - February, 1999, a multi-national research team went back to collect fossils from the near-shore marine sand deposits that are found on Vega Island.   They were rewarded with a rich mixture of vertebrate and invertebrate remains.   The news releases from the expedition tempted us with some hints of what was found and also offended some of us with the usual dumb media 'mistakes' (such as 'the mosasaur, a razor-toothed ''duck-bill'' animal with paddles ..... that was a dinosaur'). 

In December, 1999, I had the opportunity to visit with Jim Martin of the Museum of Geology at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Jim was one of the Americans invited along on the 1999 expedition to Vega Island and was able to bring back a number of specimens on loan for study.  Some of this material was on display at the Museum of Geology during my visit and I was able to take a few pictures.  I tried to give equal time to the invertebrate specimens, some rocks (plesiosaur gastroliths) and a shark, but my major interest was the marine reptile (mosasaurs and plesiosaurs) remains.  Unfortunately, almost all of the vertebrate material in the exhibit was fragmented and not readily recognizable.  Click on the thumbnails below for a larger view: 

ammon01a.jpg (2216 bytes) An ammonite from Vega Island, off the coast of Antarctica.
ammon02a.jpg (3024 bytes) An ammonite from Vega Island, off the coast of Antarctica.
ammon03a.jpg (2604 bytes) An ammonite from Vega Island, off the coast of Antarctica.
shark01a.jpg (2102 bytes) One of several large shark vertebrae recovered from Vega Island.  This one measures about 10 cm in diameter.
pl-pel1a.jpg (2373 bytes) A portion of the pelvic or pectoral girdle of a large plesiosaur.  The bone is about 17 cm across at the widest point.
pl-pod1a.jpg (2699 bytes) A propodial (humerus or femur) of a large plesiosaur.  This bone is about 18 cm in length.
pl-vrt2a.jpg (2161 bytes) A small plesiosaur vertebra (about 8 cm across)
pl-vrt1a.jpg (2618 bytes) A very large plesiosaur vertebra (about 18 cm across).  Jim Martin collected this one as fragments and then was amazed at the size after it had been put back together by the preparator.
gastro3a.jpg (3618 bytes) A partial collection of small gastroliths (largest stone in foreground is about 48 mm long) from a large plesiosaur.  The jacket containing the rest of the gastroliths is still in preparation.  Jim Martin estimates that there are literally thousands of these small stones associated with the plesiosaur remains.
mosa-01a.jpg (3190 bytes) The largest piece (about 30 cm in length) of a   mosasaur that was collected. This specimen is the back of the right maxilla from a very large mosasaur (10+ meters).  Although it is yet to be identified, it is probably closely related to Hainosaurus or Tylosaurus.  Other mosasaur teeth and vertebrae were also collected.
teeth01a.jpg (3375 bytes) A closer shot of the three teeth at the back of the maxilla fragment.  The crown height of these teeth is about 4 cm.   Mosasaur material was less common in this area than that of plesiosaurs. In 2000, a fairly complete skull of a new species of Tylosaurus was collected on James Ross Island (Novas, et al., 2002).

A lot has happened in regard to marine fossils from Antarctica since 1999...

Two new species of dinosaur discovered in Antarctica:

In late 2005, paleontologists found two new species of dinosaur high in the mountains of Antarctica:

Baby Plesiosaur:

In 2006, the remains of a "baby" plesiosaur were found on Vega Island (see story here):

Here Dr James Martin explains the exhibit of the prepared specimen at the Museum of Geology, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology:

A closer view of the skeleton in ventral view. Note the gastralia across the abdomen.


Anderson, J. G.  1906.  On the geology of Graham Land.  Bulletin of the Geological Institute of Uppsala, 7:19-71, pls. 1-6.

Case, J. A., J. E. Martin, D. S. Chaney, M. Reguero, S. A. Marenssi, S. M. Santillana, M. O. Woodburne.  2000.  The first duck-billed dinosaur (Family Hadrosauridae) from Antarctica. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 20(3):612–614. (Includes five taxa of marine reptiles)

Chatterjee, S. and B. J. Small. 1989. New plesiosaurs from the Upper Cretaceous of Antarctica. pp. 197-215 In Crame, J. A. Origins and evolution of the Antarctic biota. London, 322 pp.

Chatterjee, S., B. J. Small, and M. W. Nickell. 1984, Late Cretaceous marine reptiles from Antarctica. Antarctic Journal of the United States, 1984 Review, pp. 7-8.

Chatterjee, S. and W. J. Zinsmeister.  1982. Late Cretaceous marine vertebrates from Seymour Island, Antarctic Peninsula. Antarctic Journal 17(5):66.

Felix, J.  1909.  Über die fossilen Korallen der Snow Hill-Insel und der Seymour-Insel.  Wissenschaftliche Ergebnisse der Schwedischen
Südpolar-Expedition 1901-1903, 3(5):1-15.

Gasparini, Z. and R. del Valle. 1984. Mosasaurios (Reptila, Sauria) Cretacicos, en el continente Anartico. Noveno Congreso Geologico, S.C. De Bariloche, ACTAS IV:423-431. (In Spanish, w/English abstract)

Grande, L. and J. Eastman.  1986.  A review of Antarctic ichthyofaunas in light of new fossil discoveries.  Palaeontology 29(1):113-137.

Grande, L. and S. Chatterjee.  1987.  New Cretaceous fish fossils from Seymour Island, Antarctic Peninsula.  Palaeontology 30(4):829-837.

Nordenskjöld, O. and J. G. Andersson.  1905.  Antarctica or Two Years Amongst the Ice of the South Pole.  The Macmillan Company, New York, 608 p.

Novas, F. E.,  M. Fernández, Z. B. Gasparini, J. M. Lirio, H. J. Nuñez and P. Puerta.  2002.  Lakumasaurus antarcticus, n. gen. et sp., a new mosasaur (Reptilia, Squamata) from the Upper Cretaceous of Antarctica. Ameghiniana 39(2):245-249.

Wiman, C.  1903.  Vorlaeufige Mitteilung ueber die alttertiaeren Vertebraten der Seymour-insel.   Bull. Geol. Inst. Univ. Uppsala 6 (11-12) (for 1902-1903): 247-253. 

Wiman, C. 1905 Vorläufige Mitteilung über die alttertiären Vertebraten der Seymourinsel. Bull. Geol. Inst. Uppsala 6, 1902-03(1905), pp. 247-256, Taf. 12.

Wiman, C. 1905 Über die alttertiären Vertebraten der Seymourinsel. In: Wiss. Ergebn. Schwed. Südpolarexpedition 1901-1903, Vol. 3, No 1 , 35 pp.


Also Abstracts from PALAEONTOLOGIA POLONICA VOL. 60: Palaeontological Results of the Polish Antarctic Expeditions Part III