A predator that ruled the seas 170 million years ago has finally been unveiled by scientists half a century after it was discovered.
The fossilised skeleton of the dolphin-like animal – named the Storr Lochs monster – was found on the Isle of Skye in 1966 by a local power station manager.
It had been preserved in National Museums Scotland’s storage facility for 50 years but a partnership between the museum, the University of Edinburgh and energy company SSE has now enabled the fossil to be extracted from the rock, creating a clearer picture of the dinosaur.
Experts say the fossil is from the ichthyosaurs group and the reptile would have been around four metres in length with a pointed head and hundreds of cone-shaped teeth used to feed on fish and squid.
It is said to be the most complete skeleton of a sea-living reptile from the dinosaurs age that has ever been found in Scotland.
Palaeontologists hope it will help to reveal how ichthyosaurs evolved during the middle Jurassic period.
Dr Steve Brusatte, from the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, said: “Ichthyosaurs like the Storr Lochs monster ruled the waves while dinosaurs thundered across the land.
“Their bones are exceptionally rare in Scotland, which makes this specimen one of the crown jewels of Scottish fossils.
“It’s all thanks to the keen eye of an amateur collector that this remarkable fossil was ever found in the first place, which goes to show that you don’t need an advanced degree to make huge scientific discoveries.”
Skye is one of the few places in the world where fossils from the middle Jurassic period can be found and it has been referred to as “Scotland’s dinosaur island”.
Dr Nick Fraser, keeper of natural sciences at National Museums Scotland, said: “The Storrs Loch monster highlights the rich fossil heritage of Skye.
“Collaborations between scientists at National Museums Scotland, the University of Edinburgh and elsewhere in the UK are beginning to shed new light on the middle Jurassic of Skye – a time when dinosaurs were dominant on land but mammals were also diversifying.”
The fossil was discovered on a beach near the SSE Storrs Loch power station by the facility’s manager Norrie Gillies, who died in 2011 aged 93.
Once analysis of the fossil is complete, it will go on display at a number of locations, including SSE’s new visitor centre at the Pitlochry dam.
Martin Pibworth, managing director wholesale SSE, said: “The fossil was found 50 years ago by Norrie Gillies who, like his son Allan, are both proud SSE company men and were determined it should receive the public attention it deserves.
“SSE hopes this fossil will indeed prove to be a ’crown jewel’ in Scotland’s Jurassic history and thanks to the foresight of the Gillies family, enjoyed by generations to come.”