A 14-foot long, dolphin-like ichthyosaur would have swum the warm, shallow seas near Scotland during the Jurassic period, according to scientists who have identified an entirely new species from a “very special” set of bones found by an amateur enthusiast in 1959 and given to Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum.
The largest group of palaeontologists ever to have worked together in Scotland believe fossil fragments of skulls, teeth, vertebrae and an upper arm bone would have belonged to a previously unknown type of long-extinct aquatic animal, named the Dearcmhara shawcrossi after Brian Shawcross, who recovered the fossils from the island’s Bearreraig Bay.
partly in homage to the history of the Hebrides and Skye, much of which was underwater during Jurassic times. Some reports have likened the predator to an ancestor of the Loch Ness monster.
The PalAlba group behind the identification of the new species© Bill Crighton
“During the time of dinosaurs, the waters of Scotland were prowled by big reptiles the size of motor boats,” explained Dr Steve Brusatte, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, who led the study.
“Their fossils are very rare, and only now, for the first time, we’ve found a new species that was uniquely Scottish.
“Without the generosity of the collector who donated the bones to a museum instead of keeping them or selling them, we would have never known that this amazing animal existed.
“We are honoured to name the new species after Mr Shawcross and will do the same if any other collectors wish to donate new specimens.”
The creature was near the top of the food chain 170 million years ago, preying on fish and other reptiles during an age when Skye was joined to the rest of the UK as part of a large island positioned between landmasses that gradually drifted apart to become Europe and North America.
“Not only is this a very special discovery, but it also marks the beginning of a major new collaboration involving some of the most eminent palaeontologists in Scotland,” said Dr Nick Fraser, of National Museums Scotland.