Enormous Ancient Fish Discovered by Accident – Bizarre-Looking and “Absolutely Massive!”

An example of what a complete fish fossil coelacanth looks like. This one is from the Jurassic of German.
Credit: Professor David Martill, University of Portsmouth

A serendipitous discovery of a fossilized bony lung reveals a massive ancient fish.

Fossilized remains of a fish that grew as big as a great white shark and the largest of its type ever found have been discovered by accident.

The new discovery by scientists from the University of Portsmouth is a species of the so-called ‘living fossil’ coelacanths that still swim in the seas, surviving the extinction that killed off the dinosaurs.

The discovery was purely serendipitous. Professor David Martill, a paleontologist from the University’s School of the Environment, Geography and Geosciences, had been asked to identify a large bone in a private collection in London.

The collector had bought the specimen thinking the bone might have been part of a pterodactyls’ skull. Professor Martill was surprised to find it was not in fact a single bone, but composed of many thin bony plates.

He said: “The thin bony plates were arranged like a barrel, but with the staves going round instead of from top to bottom. Only one animal has such a structure and that is the coelacanth — we’d found a bony lung of this remarkable and bizarre-looking fish.

“The collector was mightily disappointed he didn’t have a pterosaur skull, but my colleagues and I were thrilled as no coelacanth has ever been found in the phosphate deposits of Morocco, and this example was absolutely massive!”

Professor Martill teamed up with leading Brazilian paleontologist Dr. Paulo Brito, of the State University of Rio de Janeiro, to identify the fossil. Dr Brito has studied coelacanths for more than 20 years and is an expert on their lungs, and was astonished at the size of this new specimen.

The fossil had been embedded in a block of phosphate, backed with plaster and covered in a coating of lacquer, which had caused the bones to turn brown. It was found next to a pterodactyl which proves it lived in the Cretaceous era – 66 million years ago.

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