Great white-shark-sized ancient fish discovered by accident from fossilized lung

Good News Notes: 

A 66 million-year-old fossilized lung from a previously unknown species of ancient fish, as large as a great white shark, has recently been uncovered in Morocco. 

Researchers believe the fish was a much larger member of the coelacanths, an Order of fish nicknamed the ‘living fossils that were thought to be extinct until a live specimen was found in 1938. Given the size of the newfound lung, this particular coelacanth would have been 17 feet (5.2 meters) long, according to the researchers.

The fossilized lung was part of a large slab, uncovered in phosphate beds in Oued Zem in Morocco, which contained several other bones belonging to pterosaurs. The bones confirm that the coelacanth dates back to the end of the Cretaceous period 66 million years ago, just before the dinosaurs became extinct.

‘It is absolutely enormous; it’s a giant coelacanth, in a place we have never found them before’ said study co-author David Martill, a paleontologist at the University of Portsmouth in England. 

The new discovery sheds light on one of the most mysterious fish groups to ever swim in the oceans, but it also raises questions about what happened to them.

A private pterosaur collector in London bought the fossil slab from a seller in Morocco and originally mistook the fossilized fish lung as part of a pterodactyl skull. But on closer inspection, he was unsure, so he contacted Martill to get his professional opinion. 

‘He sent me a bunch of pictures, and I really didn’t know what it was,’ Martill told Live Science. ‘But I really didn’t think it was part of the pterosaur.;

However, after visiting the fossil slab in person, Martill knew exactly what he was looking at. ‘I realized that instead of being one bone, it was actually hundreds of very thin sheets of bone,’ Martill said.

The fossil lung was somewhat barrel-shaped, but instead of the staves — the wooden planks that make up a barrel — lined up along the barrel, they were wrapped around it and overlapping.

‘There’s only one species that has a bone structure like that, and that’s the coelacanth fish,’ Martill said. ‘They actually wrap their lung in this bony sheath, it’s a very unusual structure.’

Initially disappointed, the collector allowed Martill to separate the lung from the rest of the slab so it could be properly analyzed.

After discovering the fossilized lung, Martill teamed up with Brazlillian paleontologist Paulo Brito, a world leading expert in coelacanth lungs, from the State University of Rio de Janeiro. Brito confirmed Martill’s suspicions and was “astonished” at the size of the specimen, according to a statement from the University of Portsmouth. “

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