A fierce predator that prowled the oceans 170 million years ago has been unveiled today by scientists for the first time – 50 years after it was discovered in Scotland by an SSE worker.
The fossilised skeleton of the dolphin-like animal was found on the Isle of Skye in 1966 on a beach near the SSE Storr Lochs Power Station by the facility’s manager, Norrie Gillies, who died in 2011 aged 93.
Now officially named the Storr Lochs Monster – but which has already been dubbed as ‘the real Loch Ness Monster’ – it is the most complete skeleton of a sea-living reptile from the Age of Dinosaurs that has ever been found in Scotland.
A partnership between Edinburgh University, National Museums Scotland and energy company SSE has enabled the fossil to be extracted from the rock that encased it for millions of years.
The ancient reptile was around four metres in length and had a long, pointed head filled with hundreds of cone-shaped teeth, which it used to feed on fish and squid, researchers say.
It has been preserved in National Museums Scotland’s storage facility for 50 years and now, by pooling expertise, the new collaboration will enable experts to form a clearer picture of the fossil.
A team of palaeontologists from the University of Edinburgh and National Museums Scotland will carry out a detailed examination of the fossil, which belongs to an extinct family of marine reptiles – known as ichthyosaurs.
The ancient animals thrived in prehistoric seas at the same time the dinosaurs were ruling the land. The Isle of Skye is one of the few places in the world where fossils from the Middle Jurassic Period can be found.
Dr Steve Brusatte, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, said: “Ichthyosaurs like the Storr Lochs Monster ruled the waves while dinosaurs thundered across the land. Their bones are exceptionally rare in Scotland, which makes this specimen one of the crown jewels of Scottish fossils.”
Martin Pibworth, Managing Director, SSE Wholesale, said: “We are delighted to be playing a part in bringing the Storr Lochs Monster to life. The fossil was found 50 years ago by Norrie Gillies who, like his son Allan are both proud SSE company men, and were determined it should receive the public attention it deserves.
“We hope this fossil will indeed prove to be a ‘crown jewel’ in Scotland’s Jurassic history and – thanks to the foresight of the Gillies family – enjoyed by generations to come.”