Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dinosaur fish be just 80 minutes away

Joseph Hatcher points to a yellow-coloured layer — the Gama Ferruginous Member of the Pierre Shale — on the Cretaceous Stratigraphic Nomenclature map of Southwestern Manitoba that’s taped to a wall.

We’re repute in the lab of the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in Morden, about 80 minutes southwest of Winnipeg on Highway 3.

"This is major because it was not before known to exist in Manitoba prior to this season in the area south of Riding Mountain National Park," says Hatcher, the CFDC’s assistant curator.

Xiphactinus was a gargantuan, voracious predatory fish that lived 80 million years ago in the Western Interior Seaway of North America throughout the Cretaceous period, sharing the waters with mosasaurs and other marine reptiles.

A display case keeps the lower jaw from this fearsome fish, which, with its sharp jutting teeth and blunt head is frequently said "to resemble a bulldog" adds Hatcher.

Formerly known as the Morden and District Museum (1971-2004), the 16,000-square-foot CFDC, located in the lower level of the Morden Community Centre, contains the biggest collection of marine reptile fossils in Canada, says Hatcher, a native of Hendersonville, N.C., who has been effective at the CFDC for the last three years.

Inside the centre’s collection room, Hatcher pulls out a drawer from a sizeable wooden cabinet and demonstrates me the upper jaw of a mosasaur with a row of sharp conical teeth.

It was excavated in the Manitoba Escarpment, as were the extra fossils in the CFDC, in 1978.

"Mosasaurs were air breathers and had extremely mobile jaws that could unbalance to engulf their unlucky victims," Hatcher explains.

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