In Depth

Remains of ‘largest ever’ prehistoric sea monster found in UK

Experts believe giant ichthyosaur may have been as long or even longer than blue whale

The remains of what experts believe may be the largest sea monster known to science have been discovered on the shore of the Bristol Channel.

The find is believed to be the jawbone of a giant ichthyosaur that, scientists estimate, “may have measured up to a whopping 85 feet long - approaching the size of some blue whales, the largest animal ever known to exist”, says Newsweek.

Ichthyosaurs were dolphin-like marine reptiles “that roamed the seas during the age of the dinosaurs”, the website adds.

The broken jawbone fossil was found on the coast of Lilstock, Somerset, by collector Paul de la Salle, who has co-authored a new study describing the fossil that has been published in the journal PLOS One.

Following the discovery, in May 2016, De la Salle contacted Dean Lomax, a palaeontologist at Manchester University, who realised the significance of the fossil.

“Seeing it in person for the first time, my jaw just hit the floor,” Lomax said.

Because the new specimen is only represented by a piece of the jaw bone, it is difficult to work out the exact size of the creature. However, Lomax explains that using a simple scaling factor, researchers estimate that the Lilstock specimen is about 25% larger than those found previously.

Some have been much smaller than the newly discovered specimen. In 2016, a near-complete ichthyosaur skeleton measuring 13ft in length was found off the coast of Scotland.

“Of course, such estimates are not entirely realistic because of differences between species,” Lomax said in a statement. “Nonetheless, simple scaling is commonly used to estimate size, especially when comparative material is scarce.”

Biology textbooks “have long touted the modern blue whale as the largest animal that ever lived, but this and other fascinating fossil finds hint that there may once have been even bigger creatures swimming Earth’s seas”, says National Geographic.

The blue whale, which can grow to up to 98ft long, is the biggest animal alive today.

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