COOPERSTOWN - Geolgists are preparing to dig near here for the fossilized remains of a giant sea turtle that lived in an ocean in North Dakota about 75 million years ago.
"We don't know how big it is, but it could be 10 to 12 feet long," said John Hoganson, the paleontologist for the state Geological Survey.
The sea turtle remains were discovered about two years ago along on a fence line, Hoganson said. Officials first had to determine who owned the land, and then get permission to explore. Hoganson said the landowners gave the state permission to collect the sea turtle fossils.
"It would have lived in an ocean 75 million years ago, at the same time the mosasaur (a marine reptile with flippers and huge teeth), sharks and seabirds were living in this ocean," Hoganson said.
Fossils of the other mammals also are at the site, he said.
The Cooperstown dig is among a number of Geological Survey projects planned for the summer.
"We're also going to do some work at the Pembina Gorge site and in the Marmarth area," Hoganson said.
The Pembina Gorge site, on state land, is estimated to be about 80 million years old.
"It is here, also, we're finding the remains of animals that would have inhabited an ocean covering most of North Dakota at that time," Hoganson said. Those animals include seabirds, mosasaur and fish, he said.
The most spectacular fossils found at the Pembina Gorge site so far have been the remains of a giant squid, Hoganson said. It is a first for North Dakota, he said.
A 6-foot-long support structure - similar to a backbone - was found, indicating the squid itself had to be at least 12 feet long, Hoganson said.
The giant squid remains are in the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck and are being prepared for display, Hoganson said.
Exploratory work is also planned at Marmarth, in extreme southwestern North Dakota, on USDA Forest Service-administered land.
"At Marmarth, we have a new site where we think we have a triceratops," Hoganson said. "We have at least a partial skull in there, but we won't know exactly how much of the skull of the animal is there until we do some excavation work."
One triceratops skull excavated from that area is on display in the Heritage Center and another is on exhibit in the Geological Survey office building in Bismarck.
The triceratops lived in North Dakota about 65 million years ago.
"It was one of the largest and heaviest of the horned dinosaurs," Hoganson said. "The skull, often at least 6 feet long in adult specimens, is distinctive because it is equipped with two long brow horns, a short nose horn and a large, solid bone frill that covered its neck.
"We're really looking for a fairly complete skeleton, so we can put that up here in the Heritage Center," Hoganson said. "That's really our goal."