Alan Dailey was boating at Flaming Gorge Reservoir in May when he spotted something on the shore — part of a fossilized marine reptile known as an ichthyosaur, pronounced ick-thee-oh-sore, which means “fish-lizard.”
Dailey, of Hooper, took photos of the specimen. He left it in the field and contacted paleontologists. The discovery would mark one of the best known ichthyosaur specimens recovered in the state, according to a Utah Division of Parks and Recreation news release this week.
Early last month, a team of Utah State Parks paleontologists recovered Dailey’s discovery from the reservoir.
“By Alan doing the right thing and reporting the fossil, an important, partially articulated ichthyosaur will now be available for marine reptile specialists to study,” Steve Sroka, park manager of the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum, said in a statement.
Ichthyosaurs were dolphin- to whale-sized marine reptiles that swam in the seas of the Mesozoic era, which spanned about 130 million years — from the times of the first dinosaurs to shortly before their extinction, according to the release.
The dolphin-sized creature found at Flaming Gorge likely lived in the region during the early millenia of the Late Jurassic epoch. It would have had a long snout, conical teeth, a streamlined body, compact fins and a “tail built for speed,” according to the release.
Dailey’s find included a rare assortment of bones. Ichthyosaur fossils previously found in Utah consisted mostly of “isolated vertebrate” and were not officially reported until 1993. This specimen includes a “nearly complete and articulated” front fin, along with 10 ribs and 19 articulated vertebrae.
“It is not often you see an entire fin laid out in the rock like that — so it is fun to be able to imagine a fast-swimming ichthyosaur chasing prey through the warm seawater in our region so long ago,” John Foster, coordinator of the Utah Field House of Natural History Museum, said in a statement.
The specimen was found in a 400-pound block of sandstone that also preserved the fossils of oysters and extinct, squid-like creatures called belemnoids that lived in the area at the time.
A collections team worked to wrestle the heavy block into a boat for transport. The team included Dailey, paleontologists, volunteers from the Utah Field House of Natural History, two U.S. Forest Service representatives and a Utah State Parks ranger.
A forklift operator at the Lucerne marina then carefully retrieved the block from the boat so the creature could be transported to its final resting place — on public display at the Utah Field House of Natural History, once lab workers clear the some of the rock covering the bones to better expose the skeleton.
The process also will help determine the specific species of ichthyosaur found, according to the release.