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Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, South Dakota

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Scientists from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology's Museum of Geology hope their discoveries of mosasaurs along the Missouri River will help them better understand the past and the future. "Mosasaurs are like lizards, unlike dinosaurs which are more like birds," said James Martin, curator of vertebrate paleontology. Since 1989, Martin, the Corps of Engineers and the tribe have located and collected mosasaur specimens along the river. They spent August collecting a specimen about 10 miles south of Chamberlain. Mosasaurs, which resemble alligators with paddles instead of legs, pose interesting possibilities to questions Martin and his team have been trying to answer. "We're learning a lot of things about their behavior, feeding habits, and how the ocean changed through time ... We're looking at the sea way before land's existence. There was a lot of volcanism ... 50 times greater than St. Helen's. ... It was decimating the population long before the total extinction of the beasts," he said. "The mosasaurs would come up for air and get a lung full of volcanic ash." Martin also has found mosasaurs in Antarctica and in Europe which "would indicate that their habitat was worldwide."