The remains of an ichthyosaur unearthed in a chalk quarry in Barrington, Cambridgeshire, have been donated to the Natural History Museum.
The remains are of a fish-shaped marine reptile, at least 90 million years old. They were discovered by global building solutions company CEMEX .
The ichthyosaurs lived in the world's oceans at the same time as the dinosaurs, from 200-90 million years ago. They were built for speed, with an elongated snout, spindle-shaped body, shark-like tail fin and stream-lined flippers.
Like dolphins they hunted small, swimming prey. They also breathed at the surface and gave birth to well-developed young at sea.
But unlike dolphins, ichthyosaurs were reptiles that swam using side to side movements of the tail, like fish.
CEMEX's manager for Barrington quarry John Drayton discovered the remains as part of a routine geological survey. 'I take a keen interest in local geology and was curious to find three teeth and parts of a rib cage some 50 metres below the top chalk layer.'
The ichthyosaur remains belonged to an adult about six to seven metres long with a skull that would have been over one metre in length.
Natural History Museum's excavation co-ordinator and fossil preparator, Scott Moore-Fay, explains, 'Ichthyosaurs became extinct about 90 million years ago at a time when the chalk of Europe and England was only just starting to be deposited. It is therefore very rare to find ichthyosaurs in a chalk environment.
'The specimen appears to have broken apart before it was fossilised and was also damaged by the mechanical excavator so it may be some time before we know how much of the animal will have recovered.'