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Traces of a Triassic Kraken?

At first I thought this discovery was really cool, because I love the idea of ancient giant cephalopods creating art and us finding the works now. But then, reality sinks in: that’s a genuinely, flamboyantly extravagant claim, and the evidence better be really, really solid. And it’s not. It’s actually rather pathetic.

It consists of the discovery of ichthyosaur vertebrae lying in a flattened array. They look like this.


Photo shows shonisaur vertebral disks arranged in curious linear patters with almost geometric regularity. The arranged vertebrae resemble the pattern of sucker discs on a cephalopod tentacle, with each vertebra strongly resembling a coleoid sucker.

Wait, what? That’s it?

This work was presented at a meeting of the GSA under the title “Triassic kraken: the Berlin ichthyosaur death assemblage interpreted as a giant cephalopod midden”, with this argument:

“It became very clear that something very odd was going on there,” said McMenamin. “It was a very odd configuration of bones.”

First of all, the different degrees of etching on the bones suggested that the shonisaurs were not all killed and buried at the same time. It also looked like the bones had been purposefully rearranged. That it got him thinking about a particular modern predator that is known for just this sort of intelligent manipulation of bones.

“Modern octopus will do this,” McMenamin said. What if there was an ancient, very large sort of octopus, like the kraken of mythology. “I think that these things were captured by the kraken and taken to the midden and the cephalopod would take them apart.”

In the fossil bed, some of the shonisaur vertebral disks are arranged in curious linear patterns with almost geometric regularity, McMenamin explained.The proposed Triassic kraken, which could have been the most intelligent invertebrate ever, arranged the vertebral discs in double line patterns, with individual pieces nesting in a fitted fashion as if they were part of a puzzle.

Even more creepy: The arranged vertebrae resemble the pattern of sucker discs on a cephalopod tentacle, with each vertebra strongly resembling a coleoid sucker. In other words, the vertebral disc “pavement” seen at the state park may represent the earliest known self portrait.

Let me explain something here. This “Triassic kraken” has not been found; no fossils, no remains at all, no evidence of its existence. It is postulated to have been large enough to hunt and kill ichthyosaurs, which is remarkable—comparison to modern giant squid is invalid, since they are prey of whales, not predator. This fossil bed is being over-interpreted as a trace fossil, with the bones arranged by intent, by an intelligent cephalopod, which they have not seen. Furthermore, a line of discs is being seen as a picture of a cephalopod tentacle, classic pareidolia. This is trivial: dump a pile of Necco wafers on a table, and I’ll see a picture of squid suckers. This is a whole series of tenuous and unlikely speculations stacked together to make an ultimately ridiculous hypothesis.

After I read the abstract and realization settled in that this was nonsense, something else was nagging me. That name, McMenamin — I’d heard it somewhere before. A little search, and there it was: I’ve encountered him tangentially before. He’s the geologist who so effulgently endorsed the imaginative pattern-spotting of Stuart Pivar. He also claims “that mariners of ancient Carthage made it to America long before Eriksson and Columbus, some time around 350 BC.”

I think I would concur with the idea that Mark McMenamin is exceptionally imaginative.

(Also on Sb)

Comments

  1. says

    Time to admit that it’s Chuck Testa yet again.

    Ancient aliens is what the History Channel would claim, but who can’t be fooled by ol’ Chuck?

    Intelligent design? Flagella? It’s all Chuck. OK, not for science, but what reason do the IDiots have to prefer God over Chuck? At least teach the possibility in your churches, you fools.

    Glen Davidson

  2. roxchix says

    And to think that some people like to claim that:

    1) the powers that be in the geology/Earth science world enforce orthodoxy (mostly wrt climate change science) and don’t give fringe views a platform
    or
    2) merely getting a presentation or poster at GSA makes you and your science ‘influential at GSA’ (mostly wrt the creationist posters, from a quote by Steve Austin)

    GSA is fun, you get a mix of undergrads with their first awkward presentations, scientists from lesser known colleges presenting some really local, niche interest geology, cutting edge science from the big names and big universities, and a lot of raw science that isn’t quite ready for publication, but is ready for presentation to your peers for review and refinement.

    And some of the off the wall stuff that you wouldn’t really come across just reading the major journals that cross your desk.

    Plus, a ticket for free beer in the poster hall every night.

  3. ChasCPeterson says

    comparison to modern giant squid is invalid, since they are prey, not predator.

    Say what?
    Try telling that to all the stuff they eat!
    (fish, I guess, and smaller cephs?)

  4. laurentweppe says

    Wait: and what about this guy?
    You know: he wakes up: finds that the stars are not yet right, go take a piss, kill a few ichthyosaurs then play with their bones to pass time a little before going back to sleep in his measurelessly cyclopean green slimy vault.

  5. says

    I do think that we have a great new meme to throw at the IDiots here. This is hugely above their level of evidence, pathetic as it is, and thus a far better candidate as an “intelligent designer” than Dawg. How could they complain about this “evidence?”

    Who designed the cephalopod Designer? Why no problem, we’ll define it as “always-existing.”

    Of course we don’t have evidence of it designing the flagellum, but that’s just because those things get eaten, rot, and disappear from the fossil record.

    It really is better scientifically than ID, and I’m sure they’ll have no problem calling it the bizarre imagination of a kook.

    Glen Davidson

  6. says

    Yeah, I’m comparing the relationship of giant squid/sperm whales to hypothetical ancient squid/ichthyosaurs.

    I thought about that, too, but then weren’t ichthyosaurs a good deal smaller than sperm whales? How, really, would a giant squid do against an ichthyosaur? Do we even know?

    Don’t get me wrong, I think this is bizarre nonsense (would they want to depict “their hands,” and not, say, seductive female, or male, cephalopod shapes?). I just wouldn’t want the comparison of ichthyosaurs to sperm whales to be why it’s rejected, when they were in fact closer to large-dolphin size, not (non-pygmy) sperm whale size.

    Glen Davidson

  7. witless chum says

    I wonder why my standard of “Which is more fun?” for scientific theories has yet to be adopted over the boring old “Which has more evidence/plausibility?”.

    Arty Triassic Squid would be a passable band name. At least if you play prog rock.

  8. shadowwalkyr says

    . . . vertebral disks are arranged in curious linear patterns . . . .

    Wait . . . fossil spinal bones are found in, at least roughly, a straight line? Would he have been as shocked to find a head at one end and a tail at the other?

  9. JohnW says

    Glen, #7:

    I thought about that, too, but then weren’t ichthyosaurs a good deal smaller than sperm whales?

    Shonisaurs were huge. According to Wikipedia:

    S. popularis measured around 15 metres (49 ft) long. A second species from British columbia was named Shonisaurus sikanniensis in 2004. S. sikkanniensis was one of the largest marine reptiles of all time, measuring 21 metres (69 ft). However, phylogenetic studies later showed S. sikanniensis to be a species of Shastasaurus rather than Shonisaurus.

    Therefore Cthulhu.

  10. says

    Glen Davidson (#7):

    but then weren’t ichthyosaurs a good deal smaller than sperm whales?

    According to McMenamin’s presentation, all 9 of the were over 14 meters in length. This is fairly similar to Physeter macrocephalus, which averages around 16 meters for bulls and 11 m for cows.

    The type specimen of Shastasaurus sikanniensis was 21 meters long, compared to 20.5 m for the largest Giant Sperm Whale ever recorded. Considering that Sperm Whales have a much larger sample size, it seems reasonable to conclude that the ichthyosaur was the larger animal.

    Giant cephalopods are far smaller than any of these animals, so I wouldn’t imagine giant ichthyosaurs having much of a problem.

  11. chigau () says

    PZ

    comparison to modern giant squid is invalid, since they are prey of whales, not predator.

    ChasCPeterson

    comparison to modern giant squid is invalid, since they are prey, not predator.

    One of these things is not like the other.

  12. says

    But these weren’t the larger S. sikanniensis. What it says is:

    It’s a site where the remains of nine 45-foot (14-meter) ichthyosaurs, of the species Shonisaurus popularis can be found. These were the Triassic’s counterpart to today’s predatory giant squid-eating sperm whales. But the fossils at the Nevada site have a long history of perplexing researchers, including the world’s expert on the site: the late Charles Lewis Camp of U.C. Berkeley.

    Counterpart, perhaps, but a good deal smaller (mass would scale as a cube of length if proportions otherwise remained the same). And while sperm whales do eat giant squids, they often suffer damage from them as well. Which causes one to wonder if larger squids or octopuses might take on at least some of the shinosaurs.

    Well, I don’t know. The evidence, at least that we see, doesn’t even suggest that large cephalopods existed then, let alone cared about arranging any sort of vertebrae.

    Glen Davidson

  13. says

    PZ

    comparison to modern giant squid is invalid, since they are prey of whales, not predator.

    ChasCPeterson

    comparison to modern giant squid is invalid, since they are prey, not predator.

    One of these things is not like the other.

    But both are by PZ, the former later than the latter one.

    PZ changed it.

    Glen Davidson

  14. Tim says

    What an engrossing, coherent, illustrative, deductive, profound, definitive argument… from ignorance.

    Seriously? How could anyone read that and say to her/himself “That sounds reasonable to me!”? Well, I purport that the Flying Spaghetti Monster actually arranged those bones to look like a stack of meatballs on angelhair. You can’t prove me wrong!

  15. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    PZ changed it.

    But honestly, he didn’t really have to. It was quite clear what his original meaning was. Do people go around trying to misread things just to stir up trouble?

  16. says

    But honestly, he didn’t really have to. It was quite clear what his original meaning was.

    To most of us, of course.

    To some who know little of biology, it might sound as though giant squid are herbivores or some such thing.

    It really is better this way.

    Glen Davidson

  17. says

    Oh, and one other thing: At least today giant squid live deep in the ocean, not in places where fossilization usually occurs. If these are the usual shallow-sea deposits, they’re where at least known giant species of cephalopods do not occur.

    Plus, if they did live in shallow oceans, wouldn’t we find more of them? Apparently a few giant squid fossils have been found

  18. says

    I prematurely clicked “submit.” I was just going to add that there isn’t much evidence that they normally lived in shallow waters simply because very rare fossils exist, as they do occasionally surface today.

    Glen Davidson

  19. amphiox says

    Giant cephalopods are far smaller than any of these animals, so I wouldn’t imagine giant ichthyosaurs having much of a problem.

    Well you see here, this is just proof that these “most intelligent invertebrate(s) ever” were PACK HUNTERS!

    And they must have used tools! (10 harpoons per hunter!)

    Don’t think Architeuthis/Physeter, think Homo/Mammuthus!

  20. says

    Just to keep things straight.

    To put it all in one place:

    Shonisaurus popularis (fossils in question) a sample of 9 animals were all over 14 meters long, roughly comparable in length to the 16 m average bull Sperm Whale.

    Shastasaurus sikanniensis (close relative of fossils in question) the first known specimen was 21 meters long, more than the largest Sperm Whale ever recorded (20.5), probably meaning that this species was considerably larger than the whales on average.

    Counterpart, perhaps, but a good deal smaller (mass would scale as a cube of length if proportions otherwise remained the same).

    Shonisaurus popularis was rather deep-bodied, albeit not as globular as commonly portrayed. While apparently a bit shorter than Sperm Whales on average, it seems likely their weight was comparable.

    And while sperm whales do eat giant squids, they often suffer damage from them as well.

    Is there any literature on how often this is, exactly?

  21. says

    Shonisaurus popularis (fossils in question) a sample of 9 animals were all over 14 meters long, roughly comparable in length to the 16 m average bull Sperm Whale.

    Or in other words, you compare large shonisaurs with average sperm whales. Which makes no sense, unless you actually know that they could become much larger than 15 meters. The experts do not: http://www.jstor.org/pss/4523968

    Ryosuke Motani states elsewhere:

    The most complete specimen of the type species S. popularis, from the upper Carnian of Nevada, was probably slightly less than 15 m, when missing parts are estimated (Camp 1980, McGowan & Motani 1999). This individual is not the largest of the species: There are larger but fragmentary individuals from Nevada (Camp 1980).

    EVOLUTION OF FISH-SHAPED REPTILES (REPTILIA: ICHTHYOPTERYGIA) IN THEIR PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENTS AND CONSTRAINTS
    Motani, RyosukeView Profile. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences33 (2005): 395-420.

    So larger is likely, but how much so?

    Shonisaurus popularis was rather deep-bodied, albeit not as globular as commonly portrayed. While apparently a bit shorter than Sperm Whales on average, it seems likely their weight was comparable.

    It seems not, at least from the literature. From the above linked address:

    Reaching lengths of up to 15 m, possibly slightly more, Shonisaurus was about the size of a Gray Whale.

    A gray whale grows to as much as 36 tons or so. A sperm whale as much as 63 tons. Of course it’s hard to figure out masses from fossils, but that’s no excuse to just make things up.

    Glen Davidson

  22. says

    I know this is kind of off topic, but this post triggered a question I’ve had for awhile. Does evolution experience the law of diminishing returns? Is each species traveling down an ever smaller branch on the tree of life? Was a change in the information sequence in early life more significant than a change today?

  23. ChasCPeterson says

    It was quite clear what his original meaning was.

    Maybe. And yet as written it was factually incorrect. This bothered me, and interrupted my reading.

    Do people go around trying to misread things just to stir up trouble?

    Sure, I guess people do. But I’m not one of them. People pedants like me are bothered by unclear and ambiguous writing. This is precisely why (well, one reason) the best writers in the world still require an editor.

    It’s really much clearer the second way, and I’m certain that Dr. Myers agrees.

  24. says

    Or in other words, you compare large shonisaurs with average sperm whales.

    Why do you assume they’re large? The most reasonable explanation for a group of 9 individual having body lengths over 14 meters is that the average adult is over 14 meters long.

    Which makes no sense, unless you actually know that they could become much larger than 15 meters. The experts do not:

    We are not dealing with large sample sizes. It would make sense that most of the individuals discovered are near the center of the bell curve.

    Reaching lengths of up to 15 m, possibly slightly more, Shonisaurus was about the size of a Gray Whale.

    Obviously a reference to length.

    The last word (so far) on Shonisaurus shape is:

    A Revision of the Skeletal Reconstruction of Shonisaurus popularis (Reptilia: Ichthyosauria)

    Of course it’s hard to figure out masses from fossils, but that’s no excuse to just make things up.

    Uncalled for.

  25. jakc says

    Look, I rented Clash of the Titanic today and then read through this blog post. Clearly, the Noodly One would not have led me to do so unless Triassic Kraken existed. As all good pastafarians know, the cephlapod was created in the image of the FSM, so I day “release the Kraken!”

  26. amphiox says

    Shonisaurus popularis (fossils in question) a sample of 9 animals were all over 14 meters long, roughly comparable in length to the 16 m average bull Sperm Whale.

    Or in other words, you compare large shonisaurs with average sperm whales.

    Just want to point out that this comparison isn’t with “average” Sperm Whales, but average bull Sperm Whales.

    What do we know about the gender of the Shonisaurus specimens, or potential sexual dimorphism among them?

    And if we assume that the Shonisaurus specimens are mixed-gender, then the fair size comparison isn’t to just bull Sperm Whales, but to the average of all adult Sperm Whales, which with the average female length of 11m, ought to be between 13-14m.

  27. says

    Why do you assume they’re large? The most reasonable explanation for a group of 9 individual having body lengths over 14 meters is that the average adult is over 14 meters long.

    Because they’re not much shorter than the largest found, so far as we can tell (somewhat bigger ones are inferred). We have to go by what we know, and the 9 individuals aren’t exactly all that have been found.

    We are not dealing with large sample sizes. It would make sense that most of the individuals discovered are near the center of the bell curve.

    Really. So smaller individuals fossilize as readily as larger ones? Smaller fossils are as likely to be found as larger ones?

    Reaching lengths of up to 15 m, possibly slightly more, Shonisaurus was about the size of a Gray Whale.

    Obviously a reference to length.

    Right, because that’s what’s meant by “size.” Obviously they saw no reason to suppose that they were particularly heavier per length than most whales.

    Your link doesn’t work, and the illustration on the first page of “A Revision of the Skeletal Reconstruction of Shonisaurus popularis” that I get via Google is precisely what they’re revising. If that’s not what you meant, then why did you attempt to link to an incorrect illustration? There’s nothing on that first page that supports your claim, only the faulty illustration would do so if it weren’t the BS they were fixing.

    Of course it’s hard to figure out masses from fossils, but that’s no excuse to just make things up.

    Uncalled for.

    Very much called for. But I’ll say that you shouldn’t be making shit up instead, because that’s what you’re doing. And trying ineptly to link to misleading illustrations.

    Glen Davidson

  28. doog says

    Geln Davidson:

    Oh, and one other thing: At least today giant squid live deep in the ocean, not in places where fossilization usually occurs. If these are the usual shallow-sea deposits, they’re where at least known giant species of cephalopods do not occur.

    Plus, if they did live in shallow oceans, wouldn’t we find more of them? Apparently a few giant squid fossils have been found

    There is one called Tusoteuthis. Pens of this squid have been found in the Niobrara chalk, which is thought to have been a shallow sea type environment. Of course this guy could just be the exeption…

    Anyway, if there were any giant cephalopods in the late Triassic, they would likely have been the prey of the ichthyosaurs, not the other way around.

  29. says

    Just want to point out that this comparison isn’t with “average” Sperm Whales, but average bull Sperm Whales.

    Yes, pedant, I know all about that. It was a quick reference to dumbass nonsense that pays little heed to issues of discovery and taphonomy, and proper inference.

    And if we assume that the Shonisaurus specimens are mixed-gender, then the fair size comparison isn’t to just bull Sperm Whales, but to the average of all adult Sperm Whales, which with the average female length of 11m, ought to be between 13-14m.

    Why are we bothering with averages at all? That’s the real point. We don’t just assume that apatasaurus’s get much larger than those found based on averages, because there are factors that skew what we find. We know very well that we may find that something may become much larger than we knew, but we wait for actual evidence. You may not, but that’s your lack of judgment.

    Glen Davidson

  30. says

    There is one called Tusoteuthis. Pens of this squid have been found in the Niobrara chalk, which is thought to have been a shallow sea type environment. Of course this guy could just be the exeption…

    That would be the exception you’d want to find, actually, if it is.

    But I think it’s probable that it’d have to be a good deal bigger than it appears to have been to feed on shinosaurs. I mean, giant squid is more what you’d want to have around to evolve to even bigger scales, to become the kraken proposed to have made the “art” (talk about seeing “design” where it’s not at all clear).

    Glen Davidson

  31. Jaime says

    Cthulhu Fhtagn!

    Shucks – for me this is one of those bits of off the wall scientific speculation that’s just nuts enough to be charming. It’s up there with Julian Jaynes’s stuff, the Aquatic Ape, Herbert Shaw’s whole “Craters, Cosmos and Chronicles” trip (essentially Velikovsky without it being driven by Orthodox Judaism), and all those biochemical memory theories involving flatworms.

  32. jonhendry says

    “Furthermore, a line of discs is being seen as a picture of a cephalopod tentacle, classic pareidolia. This is trivial: dump a pile of Necco wafers on a table, and I’ll see a picture of squid suckers.”

    Right, but Necco wafers don’t come out of the package connected by tissue with a spinal cord down the middle to keep them together.

    I’ll grant that the guy seems a bit odd, but it does seem like a weird pattern for them to fall into.

    How certain are they that those *are* actually fossilized vertebrae?

  33. amphiox says

    Yes, pedant, I know all about that.

    And I wasn’t addressing you specifically, pedant. Note how there are TWO people’s quotes in my blockquote? Which I included deliberately? In order to emphasize that I was making a general point related to BOTH quoted posts, and not directed at EITHER one in particular?

  34. amphiox says

    We don’t just assume that apatasaurus’s get much larger than those found based on averages, because there are factors that skew what we find.

    This is true. But I am puzzled as to why you would bring this up in respect to my post that you quote, since nothing in my post bears any relevance to this obvious truth, at all.

  35. says

    Those are pretty clearly ichthyosaur vertebral centra.

    What is not clear is that there is anything unusual here needing explaining!

    Yes, the concentration of large individuals is unusual, and older models of the site (tidal stranding, for instance) do not match the current understanding of the local sedimentology.

    But McMenamin & McMenamin’s hypothesis is insane. It is the kind of egregious claptrap that gives paleontology a bad name!!

    Talk about an hypothesis that is about as non-parsimonious and non-consilient as possible. And the worst part is that the news media seems to have fallen for this claptrap (squid)hook, line, and sinker.

    The fact that these vertebrae are mostly lined up is because that’s the way they are in the body. Yes, it is a bit weird to have have the side-to-side spillover. But I offer this possible test:

    Identify the vertebral position of each of these centra (1st presacral, 2nd presacral, etc.) If these are collapsed and slightly spread out vertebral columns of rotting corpses, they should essentially line up. If this is the artwork of a sea monster, there is no reason to suspect it would keep these in anything like anatomical position and they should be more randomly moved about.

  36. sfisher says

    Mark McMenamin, author of Garden of Ediacara and Hypersea, has a bit of a reputation for being a self-promoter. I believe he liked Pivars book because it fit in with his theory of endosymbiosis and osmotrophy and the evolution of “meta” cellularity in the enigmatic Ediacaran forms.

  37. says

    We don’t just assume that apatasaurus’s get much larger than those found based on averages, because there are factors that skew what we find.

    This is true. But I am puzzled as to why you would bring this up in respect to my post that you quote, since nothing in my post bears any relevance to this obvious truth, at all.

    Really. So you had no fucking relevant point at all? Just the obvious dull pedantic “point” that completely misses what actually matters? And my point that it misses the relevant issues is puzzling you?

    You must have a great deal of…uh…wonderment, puzzlement…in your life.

    I have things I have to do that are more important than discussing dull points raised by people puzzled that relevance would be brought up in response to dull pedantry. So I’m out of this thread, 90% certainty.

    Glen Davidson

  38. doog says

    Glen Davidson:

    But I think it’s probable that it’d have to be a good deal bigger than it appears to have been to feed on shinosaurs.

    Oh for sure. According to the ol’ Wikipedia, Tusoteuthis is thought to have been 20-35 feet long with tentacles outstretched. Plus the chalk has produced many nightmares that could have easily taken it on: Mosasaurs, pliosaurs, sharks (particularly Cretoxirhina, the “ginsu shark”), and large killer fish. Also according to the Wik, a predatory salmonid was found with the pen of Tusoteuthis lodged in it’s throat. So yeah, definitely would have to be a lot bigger to be top of the food chain.

  39. Dana Hunter says

    Sigh. At least my fellow geos had a good laugh. Wish the GSA hadn’t done a press release, though – rather took the eye off the outstanding geology being presented.

  40. stanton says

    Also according to the Wik, a predatory salmonid was found with the pen of Tusoteuthis lodged in it’s throat. So yeah, definitely would have to be a lot bigger to be top of the food chain.

    There is an intact fossil of the predatory salmon-relative, Cimolichthys, with the pen of Tusoteuthis, firmly lodged in its gullet: in life, it suffocated on the tentacles of its prey as it was in the middle of swallowing it.

  41. Ichthyic says

    from the picture:

    The arranged vertebrae resemble the pattern of sucker discs on a cephalopod tentacle, with each vertebra strongly resembling a coleoid sucker.

    they do?

    I’ve seen literally thousands of various cephalopod arms and tentacles.

    in fact, this resembles none of them.

  42. Ichthyic says

    example:

    Here
    , is a picture of an octopus arm I took last year.

    note how the suckers continue on in pairs all the way down the arm, progressively getting smaller, instead of going into a single row?

  43. says

    So I’m out of this thread, 90% certainty.

    Considering that you accused me of fraud instead of the more normal human reaction of asking for sources, I think it’s for the best.

  44. David Marjanović, OM says

    Or in other words, you compare large shonisaurs with average sperm whales.

    What makes you think all of the known individuals were unusually large?

    I know this is kind of off topic, but this post triggered a question I’ve had for a[ ]while. Does evolution experience the law of diminishing returns? Is each species traveling down an ever smaller branch on the tree of life? Was a change in the information sequence in early life more significant than a change today?

    I don’t understand your question. What do you mean by “significant” and “smaller”?

    What do we know about the gender of the Shonisaurus specimens, or potential sexual dimorphism among them?

    Nothing, except that it’s statistically improbable that the known specimens all belong to the same sex.

    Really. So smaller individuals fossilize as readily as larger ones? Smaller fossils are as likely to be found as larger ones?

    Please. Ostriches fossilize more easily than hummingbirds. But what makes you think there’s a difference between 10-m ichthyosaurs and 20-m ichthyosaurs?

    the Niobrara chalk, which is thought to have been a shallow sea type environment

    More precisely, the Western Interior Seaway is thought to have been only 40 m deep.

    We don’t just assume that apatasaurus’s get much larger than those found based on averages

    We do, of course, assume that the Apatosaurus remains we know are mostly or entirely from the fat part of the bell curve and that the curve had long tails.

    shinosaurs

    Shonisaurus is not named for its shinbones.

    How certain are they that those *are* actually fossilized vertebrae?

    They’re bone, and they’re shaped exactly like ichthyosaur vertebrae… so…

    Also note the ribs around them.

  45. Ichthyic says

    Is there any literature on how often this is, exactly?

    All the logs I’ve ever seen published, and even all of the current modern photos suggest that it’s at least very common that adults show sucker scars, if not entirely pervasive.

    like Killer whales, it wouldn’t surprise me overly to find out that there are pods of sperm whales that have chosen to primarily feed on other foodstuffs (aside from large squid), and there are probably some that even specialize on large squid; most seem to feed on whatever squid or fish they can find.

    a specific reference reviewing that topic though?

    toughie.

    there are a couple of common references, but again, these rely primarily on whaling records,

    try this one for starters:

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1748-7692.2002.tb01065.x/abstract

    i think there is a free pdf available.

    http://www.marinemammal.org/pdfs/MMRU/Flynn2002.pdf

    again, all the papers I am aware of were primarily trying for data regarding overall diet, and not so much specifically looking at how often whales take damage from prey items.

    some of the pictures of scaring I have seen are significant though. plus, there could certainly be cases of critical damage to eyes, for example.

    I’ve seen white sharks with critical damage done to their faces (eyes, snout, even gills) by elephant seals, and that’s just from elephant seal claws.

    for comparison, elephant seal claws are pretty insignificant compared to a sucker from a very large squid (all the large ones have teeth around the rings).

    I might even have a nice pic of that…

    ah, no, but I do have a picture of the tentacle teeth, which in Architeuthis are even nastier than the sucker teeth:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ichthyic/3136200547/in/set-72157611652330498

  46. Ichthyic says

    Does evolution experience the law of diminishing returns? Is each species traveling down an ever smaller branch on the tree of life?

    a bit late, so I guess the short answer is warranted:

    no.

    the thickness of the “branches” is more related to how distant each is from the other, the twigs are all extant species, so it doesn’t get much thinner than that. there is nothing about the “thinness” that is relevant to how specific gene frequencies change within given populations. They are all equally “thin” twigs.

    don’t get too wrapped up in the “tree of life” analogy;

    It’s really meant as a gross simplification of how common ancestry works as a principle; in practice, it’s much much more complicated than this, and it would be very hard to actually get a 3-d representation of the entire tree of life that also reflected relative relationships between each twig accurately.

    what’s more, how we define what each twig “is” to begin with can be more related to convenience in categorization than anything else.

    it’s probably really more accurate, from the real perspective of evolution, to think of life as more like fluid in streams in a delta, than it is to think of it as a collection of fishbowls.

  47. Jason says

    This guy is the laughing-stock of the geology community. He just makes shit up, nothing gets published, and he keeps rambling. He’s not taken seriously by anybody.

    This is what happens when you get tenure, and then go crazy.

  48. Samantha Vimes, Chalkboard Monitor says

    Wouldn’t “tentacle” trails just as likely be the valleys of waveforms in the sediment beneath the vertebrae? That is, once the flesh rotted away, they would simply gradually get shifted to a low point (flattened disc horizontal as the most stable position) and then eventually get buried that way as part of the natural patterns of underwater motion and resistance. Two lines seems a little weird, but maybe that’s just the width of the dips in the ground?
    Or, could a bunch of animals have died mating, their spines mostly aligned with each other?

  49. Vincent says

    I think the whole point with the mystery of this fossil bed is that the vertebra are not lined up as they would be in an articulated skeleton, but rather re-arranged from their natural order, into double rows that go from larger to smaller vertebra. It is, indeed, very peculiar.

  50. Ichthyic says

    I think the whole point with the mystery of this fossil bed

    …is that it was considered a mystery to begin with.

    I’m not a professional palentologist at all, but the first thing that came to my mind was “current distributed vertebrae”.

    …and then I read the post by Holz.

    done.

  51. Ichthyic says

    still, i have an alternative hypothesis:

    cephalopod xylophone.

    I’m certain a large octopus was using this as a musical instrument!

    to test this, I think all we need to do is pull out each disc, and test it with a tuning fork.

  52. says

    Someone mentioned “bull sperm whales” in the discussion of average sizes. I don’t know about sperm whales, but in the blue whale the female is larger.

    Dana, links to outstanding geology research, please?

  53. Ichthyic says

    yeah, in the case of Physeter, the males actually grow up to 50% larger than the females (triple the mass).

    largest toothed thing on the planet, AFAIK.

    I don’t recall there being a big difference in feeding habits between the two sexes (though I also can’t recall a specific study that had data differentiating diet by sex anyway), so it suggests to me that sexual selection is mostly involved in male size.

    not sure if female choice directly, or indirectly through male competition though.

  54. Eugene says

    Does it matter how large or how small a Shonisaurus is compared to a Sperm Whale. 10 tons, 20 tons, 50 tons…there’s no way a Giant Squid, or a Colossal Squid for that matter, or even something several times the size of either cephalopod, could tackle or kill any sea creature the size of a Cryptospondylus, much less specialise in killinthe creme of the crop of giant ichthyosaurs.

  55. Vincent says

    Yeah, I did read comment 43. But like I said, some of the news reports on this are saying that not all the rows of vertebra are lined up as found in the spinal column. They have, due to whatever process, been separated from their natural order and re-arranged in linear patterns.