Newfound fossils of a giant dolphin-shaped reptilian predator are now shedding light on how the world recovered after the most devastating mass extinction in history, researchers say.
This prehistoric sea monster could provide information on how the planet might deal with the mass extinction humans are causing now, scientists added.
The giant marine predator was at least 28 feet (8.6 meters) long, fossils showed. The carnivore was recovered over a course of three weeks in 2008 from what is today a mountain range in central Nevada, and is now kept at the Field Museum in Chicago.
This new species, formally named Thalattoarchon saurophagis — which means “lizard-eating ruler of the sea” — was an early member of the ichthyosaurs, marine reptiles that evolved from land reptiles just as modern whales did from land mammals. Ichthyosaurs cruised the oceans for 160 million years, apparently going extinct about 90 million years ago, some 25 million years before the age of dinosaurs ended.
“They were the most highly adapted of all marine reptiles, acquiring a fishlike shape and giving birth to live young,” said researcher Martin Sander, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Bonn in Germany.
Thalattoarchon possessed a massive skull and jaws armed with large teeth with cutting edges used to seize and slice prey. The researchers say it probably could have tackled victims as large as itself or larger.