Giant Prehistoric Sea Monster Discovered

Artist's interpretation of the giant ichthyosaur. Credit: Copyright Nobumichi Tamura

Written in a new study published in journal PLOS ONE, scientists discovered that a ginormous sea monster that was about the same size of a blue whale ruled the oceans 205 million years ago.

The sea creature, which resembles a modern day dolphin, was discovered when a huge jawbone helped researchers identify a previously unknown species and to solve a nearly 170-year-old mystery. The mystery started in 1850 when beachgoers in southern England found Triassic era fossils by the shore that were so massive, they were thought to be the limb bones of giant dinosaurs such as the long-neck sauropods.

The newly found jawbone helped researchers figure out that the species belonged to the largest-known ichthyosaur ever found. The marine reptiles went extinct at the end of the dinosaur age, around 66 million years ago.

The jawbone which helped solve the mystery was found on a beach in Lilstock, England by study co-researcher and fossil collector Paul de la Salle. When the pieces of the jaw were put together, it was 3.1 feet long.

The jawbone of the giant ichthyosaur Credit: Dean Lomax/The University of Manchester

After connecting with ichthyosaur researchers, including Dean Lomax, a paleontologist at The University of Manchester in England, and Judy Massare, professor emerita of geology at SUNY College at Brockport in New York, de la Salle determined that the specimen belonged to a giant ichthyosaur known as shastasaurid from the Triassic.

Based on the jawbone’s length, the researchers estimated that the ichthyosaur measured more than 85 feet long, making it the largest ichthyosaur on record — up to 25 percent larger than the previous shastasaurid record holder, Shonisaurus sikanniensis, a 69-foot-long creature found in British Columbia, the researchers said.

The jawbone discovery reveals more about the animals that lived in England’s ancient tropical seas. And it’s also solved the mystery of the so-called dinosaur bones.

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