Texas Tech University


In 1984, Sankar Chatterjee – Curator of Paleontology and Horn Professor of Geosciences at the Museum of Texas Tech University – with his student Bryan Small, made an astounding discovery of a plesiosaur fossil from the Late Cretaceous of Seymour Island, Antarctica. This sea monster lived in Antarctic water during the last days of dinosaurs, about 66 million years ago. Chatterjee and Small named and described the animal in 1989 as Morturneria, which is now housed at the Texas Tech Museum. Like dinosaurs on land, plesiosaurs were the arch predators in the sea, cruising from Arctic to Antarctic waters. They had a streamlined body, a short skull, long neck, broad, flat body, short tail, and four long flippers for efficient swimming. The teeth of most plesiosaurs are conical, stout, sharp, robust and ideal for stabbing and killing large animals. Morturneria, unlike, any other plesiosaurs, had delicate teeth that may have formed a 'trapping' device like baleen whales, enabling the animals to feed on small fish and crustaceans that abound in the same deposits. This unusual feeding style had attracted paleontologists from all over the world. Recently, an international team of American, Chilean, Argentinian paleontologists including Chatterjee made a detailed study of Morturneria, which made the cover and a lead article in the prestigious Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.