Was Spinosaurus, a menacing monster of a dinosaur with the head of a crocodile and a huge spiky sail running down its back, able to swim?
It’s a contentious question that has plagued paleontologists for the better part of a decade. Much of the fossil record suggests Spinosaurus, a theropod (three-toed) dinosaur, lived around water and fed on fish. But when researchers suggested the 50-foot-long Spinosaurus aegyptiacus lived a life aquatic in 2014, they were met with considerable resistance.
Donald Henderson, a paleontologist at Canada’s Royal Tyrrell museum, argued Spinosaurus was top-heavy and could float quite well, but it was unlikely the huge beast would be able to sink and pursue prey underwater.
Now a new study, published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, shows Spinosaurus was definitely more Michael Phelps than Eric the Eel. Thanks to an assortment of new bones discovered in late 2018, researchers have been able to reconstruct the tail of Spinosaurus, solidifying the argument it was a great swimmer, able to maneuver and hunt prey beneath the surface.
“This discovery is the nail in the coffin for the idea that non-avian dinosaurs never invaded the aquatic realm,” said Nazir Ibrahim, first author on the study and National Geographic Explorer, in a press release. Ibrahim has long been an advocate for Spinosaurus’ aquatic abilities, having published the original hypothesis in 2014 suggesting it Spinosaurus wasn’t afraid to get a little wet.
“It probably spent most of its life in the water,” he said.