Giant prehistoric fish grew to 16 metres, scientists claim

Jurassic fish Leedsichthys, that lived 165 million years ago, was true monster


The biggest fish ever to swim in the sea grew to the astonishing length of 54 feet, research has shown. It sounds like a fisherman’s tale.

But the giant Jurassic fish Leedsichthys, that lived 165 million years ago, was a true monster, scientists claim.

Calculations based on fragments of fossil skeleton suggest it grew to eight or nine metres (29 feet) in 20 years and reach 16.5 metres (54 feet) in 38 years.

Scientists believe Leedsichthys was the whale of its day, living on enormous quantities of plankton.

Professor Jeff Liston, from the University of Glasgow, said: “The giant plankton-feeders we know to live in today’s oceans are among the largest living vertebrate animals alive. The Leedsichthys was the first animal known to occupy this role.

“What we didn’t have any clear idea of, was how large this large fish really was: its skeleton preserves poorly, it is often just isolated fragments, so previous size estimates were largely historical arm-waving exercises.”

The team, including researchers from Canada, looked at various remains of the fish including a near-complete new specimen unearthed in Peterborough.

Prof Liston added: “We sat down and looked at a wide range of specimens, not only at the bones, but their internal growth structures as well — similar to the growth rings in trees — to get some ideas about the ages of these animals, as well as their estimated sizes...

“This fish was a pioneer for the ecological niche filled today by mammals, like blue whales, and cartilaginous fish, such as manta rays, basking sharks, whale sharks.

“Before then, vertebrate suspension-feeders did not get larger than 50 centimetres in length. “Something important had changed. The existence of these large suspension-feeding fish at this time is highly significant, as it would seem to be clear evidence of a major change in plankton populations in Earth’s oceans of Jurassic Earth.”

The research shows that evolution was opting for giant size in the sea as well as on land, where some of the biggest dinosaurs roamed.

The findings appear in the journal Mesozoic Fishes 5: Global Diversity and Evolution — Proceedings of the International Meeting.