Though experts are struggling to determine exactly what it is, after tens of millions of years scientists have uncovered what can only be described as a sea monster. After 1,500 hours of digging, paleontologists discovered a surprisingly intact skeleton of an ichthyosaur, a marine reptile which stands at more than five meters long and resembles the body structure of a whale.
The rare discovery is a breakthrough for paleontologists, who are now closer to understanding how creatures like these spread throughout the ancient oceans. It is the first of its kind to be found in India, and the sea monster has been marveled at for its preservation and unusual resting place. In an interview with PLOS research news, Guntupalli V.R. Prasad noted how vertebrate fossils are rarely found in the Kachchh region, where usually only bone fragments are found. Prasad later remarked how sea monsters like the one found existed 90-250 million years ago, and were native to oceans with warm climates.
Ichthyosaurs were said to dominate the seas along with sharks and other similar marine reptiles, existing around the same time Pangaea shifted. The skeleton of this sea monster was located in the village of Lodai, and was discovered with bones encased in sedimentary rock. This presented a huge challenge for excavators, especially considering the 100 degree heat they faced while working. During this task, it was important to preserve the skeleton in its original form, and this was helped by how the sea monster’s backbone remained in a continuous line.
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Prasad determined that the sea monster was a ‘top-tier’ predator that fed on hard and abrasive food materials, and upon further inspection, paleontologists came across parts of the creature’s jaw which were embedded in rock. The fascinating discovery is not only the most complete ichthyosaur ever unearthed in India, but is by a wide margin the oldest too. Further research has allowed scientists to determine the ichthyosaur is closely related to the reptiles discovered further north, suggesting a massive seaway once crossed the ancient continent of Gondwanaland. This would have interjected the land now covering Madagascar and South America, explaining how sea monsters were able to navigate through their jurassic surroundings.
This latest sea monster discovery is evidence of how globally widespread ichthyosaurs truly were, where research suggests they lived everywhere during the same time period when dinosaurs ruled the land. Extensive field research is planned for the future, and scientists are desperately hoping to discover more ichthyosaur fossils to develop a better understanding of their existence, and bring new discoveries to light.
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