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Mystery Solved

Plesiosaurs swam like penguins

New simulations might resolve a long-standing debate

By
1:00pm, January 26, 2016
plesiosaur

FLIP FLAP  New simulations could end years of debate on plesiosaur motoring. The ancient marine reptiles, one illustrated here, most likely swam using their front flippers for power and their back flippers for steering.

Fossil hunter Mary Anning’s 1823 discovery of the first complete plesiosaur skeleton led to more than 190 years of arguing. Some claimed the marine reptile used its four flippers like the oars of a boat. Others countered that the flippers flapped through the water like bird wings.

Experiments with robots and even humans wearing plesiosaur-like flippers only fanned the flames. But a new computer model may finally lay the controversy to rest.

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