Paleontologists recover rare “Fish-lizard” fossil in Utah

Oct 6, 2021, 4:38 PM | Updated: 4:39 pm
utah paleontologists recover ichthyosaur fossil...
Alan Dailey of Hooper, Utah, poses next to the fossilized Ichthyosaur he spotted and helped recover at Flaming Gorge. Photo: Utah Department of Natural Resources

VERNAL, Utah — A Utah boater helped paleontologists recover one of the best-known specimens of a rare fossil earlier this year. 

Alan Dailey, from Hooper, Utah was boating in the Flaming George Reservoir in Northeastern Utah in May when he found something incredible… and incredibly old.

Dailey encountered a fossil in a 400 pound sandstone block. He contacted state paleontologists about his find, sent photos, and left the specimens behind for experts to recover.

The Hooper man, along with a team of paleontologists from Utah State Parks and other partner organizations, returned to the site. There, he showed them where he first met the fossilized remains of an over 200 million-year-old marine reptile.

utah fossil of ichthyosaur found

Illustration provided by the Utah Department of Natural Resources

Ichthyosaur fossil is rare Utah find

The team excavated the fossil, which consisted of a “fore fin, vertebrae and ribs, from an animal known as an ichthyosaur  (ick-thee-oh-sore, meaning “fish-lizard”),” the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation reported.

Ichthyosaurs were “dolphin-to-whale-sized and swam in the seas of the Mesozoic era from the times of the first dinosaurs” to just before their extinction. The Ichthyosaur found was dolphin-sized with a similar shape, snout, and conical teeth. 

Previous finds of ichthyosaur fossils have been on a much smaller scale, consisting mostly of isolated vertebrae. In a news release, the parks said “Alan Dailey’s find, now at the Utah Field House of Natural History, includes the nearly complete and articulated forefin, plus 10 ribs and 19 articulated vertebrae.”

Dailey’s random encounter and prompt report to paleontologists with the state have now resulted in the recovery of one of the best ichthyosaur fossil specimens known from Utah. 

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Paleontologists recover rare “Fish-lizard” fossil in Utah