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Ichthyosaur fossil at Charmouth narrowly misses storm destruction

image captionA large number of the ichthyosaur's vertebrae and its rib cage remain intact
image captionThe ichthyosaur would have lived about 200 million years ago
image captionFossil experts took eight hours to remove the skeleton from the beach

A near-complete ichthyosaur skeleton discovered on the Dorset coast after Christmas storms was hours away from destruction, fossil hunters have said.

Storms uncovered the 1.5m (5ft) fossil at the base of Black Ven near Charmouth on Boxing Day.

The giant marine reptile fossil was painstakingly removed over eight hours, shortly before another storm was due.

Professional fossil hunter Paul Crossley, who helped excavate it, said it was "a beautiful find".

"There was a very difficult, short window before another storm blew in so we were limited for time before it got ploughed out," he said.

With only part of the snout missing, but with most vertebrae and its rib cage in place, Mr Crossley said it was one of only a few ichthyosaur fossils found in such a complete condition on the Jurassic Coast in the past decade.

'Long black snout'

Ichthyosaurs (literally 'fish-lizards') were predatory dolphin-like reptiles that swam the world's oceans 200 million years ago at the time of the dinosaurs.

The fossilised remains were spotted by hobby collector Alan Saxon, from Chippenham in Wiltshire, who was on a post-Christmas visit to the Jurassic Coast.

image captionMr Saxon said he hoped the fossil would eventually go on public display

"It was actually easy to spot - I just saw a long black snout against the grey shale. I had a closer look and could see jaws, teeth and backbones," he added.

Mr Saxon, 59, said he was considering the best approach to ensure the fossil was conserved.

"In the long term I'd like it to be available for people to see, especially in the Lyme Regis locality," he said.

Recent storm-force south-westerly winds hitting the crumbling cliffs have produced some of the most conducive conditions for fossil hunting on the beaches around Lyme Regis in several years.

Mr Crossley said: "The word is already out that Lyme Regis is the capital of fossil hunting at the moment, we've seen more people than normal on the beaches.

"We always advise going when the tide is falling and always stay well away from the cliffs and mudslides. Use common sense."

More on this story

  • Ichthyosaur skeleton found at base of Dorset cliff