Dolphin-like fossil confounds dinosaur experts

A FOSSIL from Iraq has deepened the mystery surrounding the fate of ichthyosaurs, dolphin-like reptiles that swam in the oceans millions of years ago.

An artist's impression of the Iraqi Ichthyosaur, Malawania. Picture: PA/ University of Southampton

The partial skeleton belongs to a creature that lived alongside the dinosaurs in the Cretaceous Period. Scientists previously thought that this type of ichthyosaur vanished more than 66 million years earlier during the Jurassic Period.

The “living fossil” had hardly evolved in all that time, a study published today in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters shows.

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Until recently, experts believed ichthyosaurs declined gradually during a number of Jurassic extinction events.

The new research, together with the discovery of another ichthyosaur last year, indicates the creatures still thrived during the early part of the Cretaceous Period.

It raises a large question mark over the end of the ichthyosaurs about 95 million years ago, long before the meteorite impact that is believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs.