On Tuesday, Chilean scientists recovered a complete female ichthyosaur fossil with four intact embryos from the melting Tyndall Glacier in the Patagonia region.
The 4-meter-long ancient marine reptile, which was nicknamed Fiona, will help scientists study embryonic development in ichthyosaurs, which roamed the seas between 90 and 250 million years ago.
“The fossil is the only pregnant ichthyosaur found from the Early Cretaceous era (between 129 and 139 million years ago),” remarked Judith Pardo, a Magallanes University GAIA Antarctic Research Center paleontologist who led the expedition.
Pardo had discovered the fossil in 1997, but the site’s extreme climate conditions, harsh terrain, and remoteness made the extraction a complex logistical challenge.
Scientists spent 31 days extracting the fossil, whose big size forced them to remove five 200-kilograms ice blocks from the glacial to keep its bones intact and helicoptered them to the Rio Seco Natural History Museum, where the fossil is now being prepared for exhibition.
“The expedition met all expectations,» Pardo said, stressing that it will allow her team to analyze the diversity and palaeobiology of Fiona to establish connections with other species abroad.
So far, almost 100 ichthyosaur specimens have been discovered in the Tyndall Glacier, which is one of the most abundant and well-preserved ichthyosaur sites.