October 13th, 2011 • 3:20 PM
Triassic Kraken

by Peter Martinson

Some may have seen that Mark and Dianna McMenamin presented an hypothesis at this week's GSA meeting in Minneapolis, about a gigantic Triassic cephalopod that eats 14 meter ichthyosaurs. This is from their conference abstract:

"The Luning Formation at Berlin‑Ichthyosaur State Park, Nevada, hosts a puzzling assemblage of at least 9 huge (≤14 m) juxtaposed ichthyosaurs (Shonisaurus popularis). Shonisaurs were cephalopod‑eating predators comparable to sperm whales (Physeter). Hypotheses presented to explain the apparent mass mortality at the site have included: tidal flat stranding, sudden burial by slope failure, and phytotoxin poisoning. Citing the wackestone matrix, J. A. Holger argued convincingly for a deeper water setting, but her phytotoxicity hypothesis cannot explain how so many came to rest at virtually the same spot. Skeletal articulation indicates that animals were deposited on the sea floor shortly after death. Currents or other factors placed them in a north‑south orientation. Adjacent skeletons display different taphonomic histories and degrees of disarticulation, ruling out catastrophic mass death, but allowing a scenario in which dead ichthyosaurs were sequentially transported to a sea floor midden. We hypothesize that the shonisaurs were killed and carried to the site by an enormous Triassic cephalopod, a “kraken,” with estimated length of approximately 30 m, twice that of the modern Colossal Squid Mesonychoteuthis."

This hypothesis is as good as any other, so far. Fossilization of anything, especially at the bottom of the ocean, is not common. It requires swift burial and specific chemical conditions. It is well know that fossilization of soft parts is exceedingly rare for just this reason. For example, there are a total of EIGHT fossils of octopi currently known of, anywhere on our planet. Since a large percentage of current life in our oceans is predominantly soft-bodied, it should be expected that most of the past ocean life would be unrepresented in the fossil record. Perhaps this non-existent record of previously existing organisms included a giant Kraken?

This should also prompt renewed interest in exploring the depths of our current ocean. It has been said that more people have been to the Moon, than to the ocean floor. The ocean is extremely deep, and each descent to the bottom produces novel discoveries. We should expect to find specimens of gigantic animals that live deep in the oceans, the likes of which had never been observed before. For example, only two Mesonychoteuthis specimens have ever been observed outside of whale stomachs, and both occurred only within the last decade.

It is interesting to note that this story is the biggest news to come out of the GSA conference, to the great chagrin of many internet geologists. Perhaps, people should try to come up with more interesting hypotheses to present at the next GSA conference?

Reprinted courtesy of 21st Century Science & Technology

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