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170-Million-Year-Old Sea Monster Fossil Unearthed in Isle of Skye

The latest discovery in the Isle of Skye comes in the form of a giant sea monster – large enough to draw comparisons to the folkloric Loch Ness Monster.

Dubbed “Scotland’s Dinosaur Isle,” the Isle of Skye has produced some of the world’s oldest dinosaur bones, and even the world’s smallest dinosaur footprint. The newly discovered sea monster was the size of a motorboat when it roamed Scotland 170 million years ago.

“Tantalizing bones and footprints of dinosaurs have been found in several Early-Middle Jurassic units, making Scotland one of the rare places in the world to yield dinosaurs from this under-sampled time,” wrote lead author Stephen Brusatte in a study published on Sunday in the Scottish Journal of Geology. The sea monster was a bit different than other fins in that, “It looks like a dinosaur, but it isn’t technically a dinosaur,” Brusatte told NPR. “Dinosaurs didn’t live in the ocean. And it’s the first of these sea-living, enormous, colossal top-of-the food-chain reptiles that’s ever been found in Scotland. It was about motorboat size … about 14 or 15 feet long.”

Named Dearcmhara shawcrossi, it was a large fish in Scotland’s seas, scouring the coast’s shallow, warm waters for smaller fish to prey on. Which begs the question, how were scientists able to discover a sea creature like this on land? During the Jurassic Period, most of the Isle of Skye was underwater, Brusatte said in a news release, and was positioned between two giant masses of land that would eventually separate to form North America and Europe.

“During the time of the dinosaurs, the waters of Scotland were prowled by big reptiles the size of motor boats,” Brusatte said in a University of Edinburgh press release. And one of those motor boats was the Dearcmhara, which is Scottish Gaelic for “marine lizard” and is pronounced “jark vara.”

“It is from Scotland, and is the first uniquely Scottish marine reptile ever discovered and studied,” Brusatte added in an interview with Reuters. “Many other marine reptile fossils have been found in Scotland, but the vast majority of these have disappeared into private collections or been sold.”

What made this discovery unique, he said, was the fact it was discovered in 1959 by an enthusiastic amateur searching for bones who ended up turning them over for research. That man’s name was Brian Shawcross, for whom the sea monster is named after. “It was found by a private collector who did a great thing, donated it to a museum and worked with scientists,” Brusatte added.

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