The arranged vertebrae of a fossilized ichthyosaurs resemble the pattern of suckers on a cephalopod's tentacle, evidence of a possible bad showdown with a kraken-like ancient creatures. (c)  Mark McMenamin

The arranged vertebrae of a fossilized ichthyosaur resemble the pattern of suckers on a cephalopod's tentacle, evidence of a possible bad showdown with a kraken-like ancient creatures. (c) Mark McMenamin

Hundreds of millions of years ago the Earth surface and oceans were inhabited by fierce predators of huge proportions by today’s standards. In those times, more than ever maybe, the saying that there’s always a bigger fish was cruelly true. For instance, a recent study of the fossils remains of an ichthyosaur, a giant school bus-sized predators which used to roam ancient oceans, shows evidence of a gruesome death at the hands of a cephalopod-like sea monster resembling the mythological kraken.

Mark McMenamin, a paleontologist at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, has studied the remains of this particular specimen and is convinced that a kraken-like sea monster, most likely 100 meters long, drowned or broke the necks of the ichthyosaur before dragging the corpses to its lair, akin to an octopus’s midden. His study will be presented today(Oct. 10) at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Minneapolis.

Evidence of such an event is apparently evident in the markings on the bones of the remains of nine 45-foot (14 meter) ichthyosaur of the species Shonisaurus popularis, a big toothed predator of the deeps from the Triassic period. In the 1950s, paleontologists launched theories that the ichthyosaur succumbed to an accidental stranding or a toxic plankton bloom. McMenamin is now ammmin to prove that the beast died in shallow water.

“I was aware that anytime there is controversy about depth, there is probably something interesting going on,” McMenamin said. And when he and his daughter arrived at the park, they were struck by the remains’ strangeness, particularly “a very odd configuration of bones.”

Illustration of ichthyosaurs

Illustration of ichthyosaurs

The fossil markings suggest that the ichthyosaur was not killed and buried at the same time. Instead, researchers conclude, after studying the bones configuration, that it had been carried away to the “kraken’s lair” after being killed.

The arranged vertebrae resemble the pattern of sucker disks on a cephalopod’s tentacle, which the researchers suggest this pattern reveals a self-portrait of the mysterious beast. McMillan tried to look for evidence of just this, and he was more or less fortunate. Video taken by staff at the Seattle Aquarium showed that a large octopus in one of their large tanks had been killing the sharks.

“We think that this cephalopod in the Triassic was doing the same thing,” McMenamin said. More supporting evidence: There were many more broken ribs seen in the shonisaur fossils than would seem accidental, as well as evidence of twisted necks.

“It was either drowning them or breaking their necks,” McMenamin said.

If McMenamin’s hypothesis is correct, than this should be easily asserted by this alleged kraken’s fossils. Well, here’s the funny part – cephalopods don’t fossilize well and scientists wouldn’t expect to find their remains from so long ago. McMenamin has to prepare a solid case.