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Camp was right about the ichthyosaurs being the largest yet known some reached lengths of more than 15 meters (49 feet). These ichthyosaurs, named Shonisaurus popularis by Camp, remained the size champs until 2004 when Nicholls and Manabe (see reference below) described another species of Shonisaurus from British Columbia that measured 21 meters in length.
Camp believed that the unusual concentration of skeletons he discovered nearly 40 individuals was due to the creatures being stranded during unusually low tides, but later studies of the sedimentology by UCMP grad student Jennifer Hogler indicated a deep-water depositional environment. So the reason for this odd concentration of ichthyosaur skeletons the greatest concentration of ichthyosaur skeletons known remains something of a mystery.
It took only a few days for Camp to realize the importance of the ichthyosaur site and he and Margaret Wheat began a drive to turn it into a state park. He wrote:
Camp and Wheat made a formidable team, for in less than two years the Nevada Legislature had established the Ichthyosaur Paleontological State Monument, and in 1957 the site was incorporated into the State Park System. As icing on the cake, the Legislature designated Shonisaurus popularis the state fossil of Nevada in 1977.
Extensive excavation of the ichthyosaur skeletons was carried out by groups of students under the direction of Camp and Sam Welles with the assistance of numerous friends, family members and visitors in the summers of 1954 to 1957. Camp did additional work at the site between 1963 and 1965. Camp removed only four partial ichthyosaur specimens for study the rest were left in place, many being reburied to protect them. Sam Welles returned to Berlin-Ichthyosaur in 1984 with a group of University Research Expedition Program (UREP) volunteers on a mission to do further preservation and mapping of the exposed skeletons.
In the collections
Find a wealth of Shonisaurus popularis information, art and photos on the Oceans of Kansas website.
Camp, C.L. 1976. Vorläufige Mitteilung über grosse Ichthyosaurier aus der oberen Triassic von Nevada. Sitzungsberichten der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Mathematisch-naturwissenshaftliche Klasse, Abteilung I 185:125-134.
Camp, C.L. 1980. Large ichthyosaurs from the Upper Triassic of Nevada. Paleontographica, Abteilung A 170:139-200.
Camp, C.L. 1981. Child of the rocks the story of the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, Special Publication 5. 36 pp.
Hogler, J.A. 1990. Community replacement in the Upper Triassic Luning Formation, Shoshone Mountains, Nevada. Geological Society of America, Abstracts with Programs 22(3):29.
Hogler, J.A., and R.A. Hangar. 1989. A new chondrophorine (Hydrozoa, Velellidae) from the Upper Triassic of Nevada. Journal of Paleontology 63(2):249-251.
Hogler, J.A. 1992. Taphonomy and paleoecology of Shonisaurus popularis (Reptilia: Ichthyosauria). Palaios 7(1):108-117.
Kosch, B.F. 1990. A revision of the skeletal reconstruction of Shonisaurus popularis (Reptilia: Ichthyosauria). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 10:512-514.
McGowan, C., and R. Motani. 1999. A reinterpretation of the Upper Triassic ichthyosaur, Shonisaurus. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 19:42-49.
Montague-Judd, D.D. 1999. Paleo-upwelling and the distribution of Mesozoic marine reptiles. Ph.D. thesis, University of Arizona. 456 pp.
Nicholls, E.L., and M. Manabe. 2004. Giant ichthyosaurs of the Triassic a new species of Shonisaurus from the Pardonet Formation (Norian: Late Triassic) of British Columbia. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 24(4):838-849.
Silberling, N.J. 1959. Pre-Tertiary stratigraphy and Upper Triassic paleontology of the Union District, Shoshone Mountains, Nevada. Geological Survey Professional Paper 322:1-67.
Visitors at the bonebed photo (top of page) by Des Maxwell; building, bonebed (no visitors) and relief photos by Dave Smith; black and white photos from Camp 1981 (see reference above) and courtesy of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology: visitor pointing to femur by M. Devlin, Camp studying the bonebed by D.H. Palmer, workers building a wall from the Nevada State Highway Department; fossil vertebra and chondrophore photos by Dave Smith.
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