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Another Nessie? Fossils of a Scottish Sea Monster

Jan 12, 2015 11:30 AM EST

Paleontologists have discovered the fossils of a new species of prehistoric sea monster in Scotland, and initial analysis has revealed one thing: it's definitely not Nessie.

About 14 feet from snout to tale, researchers are comparing this 170 million year old creature to a massive motor boat-sized dolphin, as the animals are similar in build and potentially even their hunting strategies. However, this was no ancestor of Flipper's.

According to a study recently published in the Scottish Journal of Geology, this reptilian swimmer - a member of diverse extinct aquatic animals known as ichthyosaurs - was likely at the top of the food chain between the Early and Middle Jurassic period.

Interestingly, this new sea monster may be more exclusive to Scotland than the infamous Loch Ness Monster, long suspected to somehow be a surviving member of the paddle-finned and long-necked plesiosaur group.

"During the time of dinosaurs, the waters of Scotland were prowled by big reptiles the size of motor boats. Their fossils are very rare, and only now, for the first time we've found a new species that was uniquely Scottish," Steve Brusatte, from the University of Edinburgh, said in a statement.

Brusatte and his colleagues assessed species of various ichthyosaurs collected from the Isle of Skye by professional and amateur fossil hunters alike. The isle and surrounding area between Scotland and Great Britain once used to be deep under water, but shifting landmasses eventually brought this sea floor to the surface. This made it an ideal region to search for prehistoric evidence. The samples, collected over the last five decades, provide some rare examples of the predators that prowled Scotland's Jurassic waters.

The new species, Dearcmhara shawcrossi, is named in honor of an amateur enthusiast, Brian Shawcross, who recovered the creature's fossils from the isle's Bearreraig Bay in 1959.

"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," Brusatte explained.

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