Swimming Elasmosaur

Visitors entering the main doors of the Earth Sciences Building are greeted by a full-sized Elasmosaurus platyurus (9.75 metres / 32 feet long). It is suspended several metres above visitors’ head height, as if the creature was swimming and hunting in its normal ocean environment. Stop for a moment and experience a sense of amazement and curiosity as you imagine this majestic sea creature swimming through a Cretaceous sea.

This majestic sea creature once swam through the Cretaceous Western Interior Sea, and other ancient oceans around the world, including here in South Western British Columbia (more below).

Photo Credit: Philippe Roberge

Click here for more information provided on the UBC News Announcement of the elasmosaur installation from September, 2018.


1. UBC Science: Meet our Elasmosaurus:

2. Elasmosaurus: Ancient sea monster comes to UBC | Vancouver Sun:

3. Time-laps of the installation

Elasmosaurus (genus) Platyurus(species); facts

  • The genus Elasmosaurus was a plesiosaur, a marine reptile, not a dinosaur.
  • They lived in North America during the Late Cretaceous period 80 million years ago, alongside the dinosaurs.
  • Elasmosaurs likely inhabited the Western Interior Seaway, a continental sea covering central North America at the time.
  • Elasmosaurs have BC roots as well. The first specimen found west of the Canadian Rockies was discovered in 1988 in shale off the Puntledge River, near Courtenay.
  • The PME’s replica skeleton measures 42 feet (13 metres) long—with more than half of that length (7 meters or 23 feet) taken up by neck.
  • The length and weight of an Elasmosaurus’s neck would place the giant reptile’s centre of gravity far back behind its flippers, limiting its ability to raise its head too far out of the water.
  • Only one confirmed complete Elasmosaurus skeleton has been discovered. The Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa also features a replica plesiosaur skeleton.

Our’s is a replica of an original skeleton, discovered in 1868 in Kansas. Described by paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope, this particular skeleton has an interesting story. In Cope’s initial sketches of the marine reptile, he incorrectly reconstructed the elasmosaur with its head placed on its tail. This early mistake started the famous “1870s Bone Wars” during which time paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh publicly pointed out Cope’s mix-up.

The elasmosaur has local B.C. roots as well. The first elasmosaur found west of the Canadian Rockies was discovered in 1988 in shale off the Puntledge River, near Courtenay, BC. You can see more by visiting our colleagues at Courtenay and District Museum and Paleontology Centre. Complete specimens of this marine reptile are rare, but partial and fragmentary skulls give us a nearly complete look at its fantastic features, likely diet and ecology.

This installation was made possible with the support of Wheaton Precious Metals. The Vancouver-based resource sector company also supported construction of UBC’s Earth Sciences Building.

The skeleton assembly and installation was led by Mike deRoos of Cetacea Contracting, a Salt Spring Island company that specializes in the design and articulation of marine and terrestrial skeletons, and science outreach.