- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2001

Dinosaurs have been sensationalized for decades through movies, books and cartoons. Theadventures of familiar friends such as the Tyrannosaurus rex, velociraptor and iguanodon have become as recognizable as those of Mickey Mouse and King Kong.
A wide range of monstrous reptiles, however, once existed under the oceans without the public-relations help of Steven Spielberg or the Disney company. Although equally intriguing, they remain relatively unknown. Among them, the mosasaurs and plesiosaurs, which were up to 50 feet in length, wielded razor-sharp teeth and controlled the seas 65 million to 144 million years ago.
A paleontologist with 30 years of experience has spent the past five years educating humans about these beasts by exploring life during the Cretaceous period in the very wet middle of America's heartland.

Oceans of Kansas
Site address: www.oceansofkansas.com
Creator: Michael Everhart lives in Derby, Kan.; works for Boeing; and acts as an adjunct curator of paleontology at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, Kan. He says he is Web master, photographer, and writer and editor, as well as the sole financial supporter of the nonprofit educational site.
Creator quotable: "I created Oceans of Kansas Paleontology because of my interest in late-Cretaceous marine reptiles and the fact that I could not find information on these extinct animals anywhere on the Internet," Mr. Everhart says. "My wife and I had been collecting fossils from western Kansas for eight years at the time. I decided that we had pictures and stories that might be of interest to an Internet audience."
Word from the Webwise: The name of this site refers to a massive body of water, the Western Interior Sea, which was about 600 feet deep and covered the middle of North America millions of years ago.
Mr. Everhart's primary focus is on the mosasaurs — named after a fossil discovery near the Meuse river in the Netherlands between 1770 and 1780 — which once lived in the Smoky Hills region of Kansas.
He does an excellent job of exploring other marine life of the time, including giant turtles, flightless birds and the long-necked fish lizard, Styxosaurus snowii.
Oceans of Kansas does not impress through flashy Web design but through a suffocating amount of text-based resources peppered with illustrations and tables, much of which may be too scientific for the average visitor. Still, even amateur paleontologists will be thrilled to find more than 110 pages of information encompassing the chronicles of fossil digs, museum visits, field guides and a wide variety of cool pictures.
I spent probably 30 minutes just scrolling around the front page, which, with its scattered design elements, resembles a garage sale of knowledge. I suggest starting by finding a link to the table of contents for a more controlled access to topics.
Here, a full listing of subjects can be found covering everything from the discovery of the remains of a giant pteranodon in western Kansas in 1996 and evidence of shark attacks on young mosasaurs to color images of a tylosaurus skull and a geologic timeline.
I found that a great springboard for introducing these marine reptiles in less scientific terms can be found on the page "A Day in the Life of a Mosasaur." Mr. Everhart offers his own account of the activities of a 20-year-old, 10-meter-long mosasaur as it snacked on ink-spraying ammonites and battled an invading mosasaur to the death. Links from the story to wonderful illustrations make the narrative frighteningly realistic.
Ease of use: The overwhelming mess of Mr. Everhart's site clearly shows a gentleman with a consuming passion for his work. A very basic search engine may help first-time visitors, but luck may be more important for finding specific information.
Don't miss: Artist Dan Varner has brought the massive animals to life through an impressive body of colorful illustrations, including fantastic scenes such as pliosaurs fighting, a plioplatecarpus giving birth and a brachauchenius devouring a squid. A link dedicated to his work can be found on the lower half of the site's front page.
The site is full of interesting tidbits. For example, I did not know:
Mosasaurs are distantly related to the Komodo dragon.
Pam Everhart's 1988 discovery of a large, late-Cretaceous fish called Protosphyraena nitida is the only known specimen of this swordfish-looking creature to have the pectoral fins preserved with the skull.
Elements on the horizon: Mr. Everhart will be visiting the Smithsonian this month to look at some Kansas fossils collected by Charles Sternberg and most likely will offer a Web page on his exploits. Additionally, he is planning to put up more historical paleontology pages, such as one describing one of the first mosasaurs discovered in the early American West, which is now in a museum in Bonn.
Comprehension level: Developed primarily for adults who already have some knowledge and interest in paleontology, the site has been used by several universities as a reference page for introductory paleontology classes.
Overall grade: B+
Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.
Have a cool technology site? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).


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