Dave the Plesiosaur

In September 1999 two fishermen discovered the remains of a plesiosaur in the bed of a river in far north Queensland. This long-necked marine reptile was about 80% complete, and at the time represented the most complete plesiosaur thus far discovered in Australia.

The fishermen contacted the Queensland Museum, who quickly organised an expedition to recover the skeleton before the wet season, beginning in November. As with most large vertebrate fossils, the plesiosaur needed a nickname. It was decided to name it after one of the fishermen who found it- ‘Dave’.

Dave was found on the eastern margin of the Great Artesian Basin at the base of Cape York Peninsula. The sandstone the bones were found in is from the Early Cretaceous Period, approximately 110 Million years old. These are rocks formed from the seabed sedimentary deposits of an inland sea which covered parts of Australia during this time.

Dig map

Dave’s skeleton was well preserved, with the original bones stretched out in an arc approximately four metres long. The neck, shoulders, trunk, pelvis and part of the tail were preserved, but the head was sadly missing. It took nearly a week of painstaking work to remove the skeleton from the rock platform in which it was imbedded. The skeleton was removed in blocks, each containing part of the animal’s remains. The blocks were then transported to the Queensland Museum for preparation and study.

The process of preparing the fossil skeleton is a slow and involved one. Rock surrounding the bones has to be removed using small pneumatic microjackhammers. Each block takes many months of preparation. Thus it has taken over ten years to prepare part of the skeleton of the plesiosaur. There are still many blocks of bones and rock to go until the job is complete.

In 2001 a second expedition was mounted by the Queensland Museum with help from the Mareeba and Chillagoe communities. The aim of this expedition was to excavate the site further and try to find the missing skull. More bones of this animal were found, but alas, the skull remained undiscovered.

Work continues, methodically, on the bones collected and it is hoped that one day the fully prepared skeleton can go on display.

Queensland Museum's Find out about... is proudly supported by the Thyne Reid Foundation and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation.