April 9 (UPI) -- A newly discovered Triassic ichthyosaur species was one of the largest animals in history, according to paleontologists at the University of Manchester in England.
When Paul de la Salle first discovered the 205 million-year-old jaw bone along the Somerset coast in 2016, he couldn't be certain what type of ancient animal it belonged to. During followup trips, he found additional fragments and realized the remains were those of a large ichthyosaur, a type of whale-like marine reptile.
"Initially, the bone just looked like a piece of rock but, after recognizing a groove and bone structure, I thought it might be part of a jaw from an ichthyosaur," de la Salle said in a news release.
For help in identifying the remains, De la Salle recruited ichthyosaur experts Dean Lomax, from Manchester, and Judy Massare, from SUNY College at Brockport in New York, as well as geologist Ramues Gallois.
It was impossible to estimate the size or species of the creature based solely on a jaw fragment, so the researchers took their fossil to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta, Canada, which houses the largest known ichthyosaur species, Shonisaurus sikanniensis -- measuring nearly 69 feet in length.
The comparative analysis suggested the new specimens was quite similar to Shonisaurus sikanniensis, only larger -- 25 percent larger, to be exact. Researchers estimated the ancient ichthyosaur to have stretched at least 85 feet in length, making it nearly the size of the blue whale, the largest animal in history.
The new research, published this week in the journal PLOS One, has also helped scientists solve the mystery of several unidentified dinosaur bones.
In 1850, several fossil fragments from the Late Triassic were recovered from Gloucestershire's Aust Cliff. The 208-million-year-old bones were never identified but were presumed to belong to a dinosaur. The latest discovery suggests they are the jawbones of another ichthyosaur, a relative of the reptile recovered from the beaches of Lilstock in Somerset.