Abstract

Remnants of ophthalmosaurid ichthyosaurs recently discovered in the vicinity of the Tyndall Glacier in the Torres del Paine National Park of southern Chile are extremely abundant and well preserved. After three field campaigns to the area, a total of 46 articulated and virtually complete ichthyosaur specimens, both adults and juveniles, were tentatively assigned to four different species of Ophthalmosauridae. Preservation is excellent and occasionally includes soft tissue and embryos. The skeletons are associated with ammonites, belemnites, inoceramid bivalves, and fishes as well as numerous plant remains. The enormous concentration of ichthyosaurs is unique for Chile and South America and places the Tyndall locality among the prime fossil Lagerstätten for Early Cretaceous marine reptiles worldwide.

The deposit is Early Cretaceous (Valanginian–Hauterivian) in age and forms part of a monotonous bathyal to abyssal sequence of the Late Jurassic to late Early Cretaceous Rocas Verdes back-arc basin. In this region, the Tyndall ichthyosaur population may have profited from cold upwelling currents that caused abundant life at the shelf edge including masses of belemnites and small fish, the preferred diet of ichthyosaurs. The abundance of almost completely articulated ichthyosaur skeletons in the Tyndall area suggests that some animals fell victim to episodic mass-mortality events caused by turbidity currents traveling downslope through a submarine canyon. They lost orientation, drowned, and were dragged into the deep sea by these turbulent high-energy gravity flows. Their bodies ended up in an oxygen-deficient basin environment where they were immediately embedded by the fine turbidite suspension fallout. The Tyndall ichthyosaur locality thus combines characteristics of both concentration and conservation Lagerstätten.

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