Turonian deposits of the Goulmima area, Er-Rachidia Province in southern Morocco, have yielded a diverse marine vertebrate fauna, including chondrichthyans, bony fishes, and large marine reptiles such as plesiosaurians, mosasauroids, and turtles. These fossils are included in ovoid calcareous nodules that are difficult to prepare. Moreover, bones may be partially or totally dissolved, making their study difficult. Using computed tomography, we have reconstructed the entire skull anatomy of SMNS 81783, one of the rare plesiosaurian specimens found in this locality and more generally in Africa. The digital three-dimensional reconstruction of the skull and the mandible offers for the first time the possibility to describe this specimen exhaustively. The new anatomical characters recorded confirm that SMNS 81783 belongs to Elasmosauridae on the basis of (1) slender and triangular skull; (2) beak index equal to 42%; (3) temporal fossa estimated to occupy about 40% of the skull length; (4) long process of the premaxillae extending posteriorly to meet the parietal above the orbit and separating the frontals; and (5) margin of the temporal fenestra lacking obvious contribution from the frontal. A preliminary phylogenetic analysis confirms its elasmosaurid affinity. The relationships between SMNS 81783, Libonectes atlasense, and Libonectes morgani, as well as the presence of stapes and pineal foramen, are discussed.
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Vol. 37 • No. 3