Routine maintenance on a U.K. reservoir quickly changed into a major paleontological dig when workers uncovered a massive, 180 million-year-old ichthyosaur fossil at the bottom of the lake.
According to a press release from the Rutland Water Nature Reserve, the find happened last February during routine draining of a lagoon island that was set for re-landscaping.
The fossil, colloquially known as “Sea Dragon”, is approximately 10 meters long and its skull weighs about one tonne, making it the biggest and most complete skeleton of its kind found to date in the U.K.
The fossilised remains of Britain’s largest ichthyosaur, colloquially known as a ‘Sea Dragon’, has been discovered at Rutland Water Nature Reserve. It is the biggest and most complete skeleton of its kind found to date in the UK!
— Rutland Water Nature Reserve (@RutlandWaterNR) January 10, 2022
“It’s the most complete and larger than any dinosaur skeleton ever found here, so it’s a mega-find for so many reasons,” paleontologist Dean Lomax, who led the excavation, told NBC News.
“During this time period, it would have been right at the top of the food chain. It’s an ultimate apex predator, perhaps one of the biggest animals in the sea worldwide.”
The massive fossil was found by a couple of conservation team workers, who saw what looked like pipes sticking up out of the mud. Upon further investigation, they realized they had excavated organic material and decided it was probably bones.
Ichthyosaurs first emerged around 250 million years ago and went extinct 90 million years ago. The marine animals range anywhere from one to 25 meters in length and resemble dolphins in general body shape.
Two incomplete and much smaller ichthyosaurs were found during the construction of Rutland Water in the 1970s, but the latest discovery is the first complete skeleton. Researchers told CNN that they also discovered the vertebrae of several other ichthyosaurs during the main dig.
The remains of the giant skeleton were excavated in August and September of last year by a team of expert paleontologists from around the U.K.
“It is a truly unprecedented discovery and one of the most significant finds in British paleontological history,” Lomax said in the press release.