Ichthyosaur fossils feed argument for existence of ancient Kraken in Nevada


Scientists are in heated disagreement about which ancient monster might have ruled the prehistoric seas in what is now Nevada. The state is home to one of the world’s greatest concentrations of Ichthyosaur remains which is why the extinct marine reptile is the state fossil. But was there a bigger, badder denizen of that ancient ocean? The author of a controversial theory says there is new evidence. Aired in 2014 on KLAS TV in Las Vegas.

Nevadans have an emotional investment in Ichthyosaurs. Part of their appeal is that they ruled the seas for millions of years as the biggest and most ferocious predators around.

But what if there was another monster, one that literally ate Ichthyosaurs for lunch. A scientist who first proposed this theory a few years ago generated worldwide debate and a lot of scorn. Now, he says he has new evidence of the existence of a creature of lore and legend — the Kraken.

Hideous and humongous, the Kraken has been part of human lore as far back as Greek mythology. Stories about its gigantic tentacles pulling down entire ships were whispered by 12th century Vikings and resurfaced well in the modern times. The theory was that it must have been a type of supersized cephalopod, which was good enough for modern movie makers.

But a real live Kraken? One that feasted on the known ruler of the prehistoric seas?

“So, at this point, the Kraken hypothesis is the best thing going to explain this longstanding paleontological mystery,” said geology professor Mark McMenamin.“

When McMenamin first pitched his theory a few years ago, some colleagues said he might as well have been talking about space aliens killing the dinosaurs. Writer Andrew Kiraly wondered if the professor had been smoking Kraken.

Mark McMenamin.

“Well now, I assure you we were completely sober when we were at Berlin-Ichthyosaur,” McMenamin said. “And you know, we came across this deployment of bones that just seemed very strange.”

The heart of the debate is in central Nevada, adjacent to an old ghost town that’s part of the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, home of one of the greatest concentrations of Ichthyosaur remains anywhere. Ichthyosaurs were reptiles, which returned to the seas hundreds of millions of years ago. The earliest ones were enormous.

Robin Riggs, a park ranger, said, “That’s 56 feet long and 40 tons, or four school buses.”

 “These are definitely the top of the food chain,” Riggs said.

Park Rangers like Riggs admit they’re protective of the Ichthyosaurs’ status as the pre-eminent monster of the deep so they don’t support the Kraken theory, but they’re happy the controversy has drawn more visitors to the park. Park visitors come to see a protected and unusual deposit of Ichthyosaur remains, nine of them laid out as if someone or something had stacked them in a lunch box.

“And I was struck coming into the fossil house quarry how strange it looked,” McMenamin said. “It just doesn’t look like a natural assemblage of bones like you might see at Dinosaur State Park. And then there has been manipulation of the skeletons. Materials have been pulled out and then organized into geometrical patterns.”

Inside the enclosure, the fossils of several Ichthyosaurs are in an arrangement that one geologist describes as unnatural. (KLAS-TV)

The prevailing view is that these Ichthyosaurs were poisoned by something like red tide and all settled in a crevasse or underwater ravine. McMenamin says he’s proven that currents alone could not have arranged them this way.

McMenamin thinks it’s more like they were snatched up by a Kraken, which snapped their spines and stacked them up like trophies. And in a soon to be released paper, he presents new evidence from Germany were an Ichthyosaur shows this type of damage.

“But his head has been twisted like this all the way around, 180 degrees, and the skeleton is otherwise undamaged,” he said.

So, how do you explain something twisting, breaking the neck of the Ichthyosaur? Twisting it around, it would require a lot of strength.

Mark McMenamin, geology professor

The biggest problem for this theory is that there are no Kraken fossils. Cephalopods are made of squishy stuff that doesn’t last all that long. McMenamin’s team is coming back to Berlin-Ichthyosaur soon to continue the quest.

“We are going to be seeking direct evidence for this Kraken creature, this is going to be a difficult thing to do paleontologically but we will give it a try,” McMenamin said.

Berlin-Ichthosaur State Park’s remote location keeps visits down to about 12,000 per year. (KLAS-TV)

And if it attracts more visitors, so much the better.

 “I’ve seen quite a few groups that are coming out and specifically asking about the Kraken,” Riggs said.

Whether he finds Kraken remains or not, this research has already led to the discovery of a previously unknown prehistoric crustacean and other advances as well.

Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park gets about 12,000 visitors per year. It’s not a big number because of its remote location. The largest percentage of foreign visitors come from Germany, who come to get a look at America’s version of Berlin, which of course is a lot different from what they’re used to.

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