Yorkshire Museum

Giant Ichthyosaur

This giant fossilised ichthyosaur skeleton is one of the largest and most complete examples of its kind.

Please note: The Yorkshire Museum is home to an extensive and varied collection of items and artefacts. Whilst we make every effort to display a broad spectrum of our collections it is not always possible for all our collections to be on display at once. Please check the latest exhibitions to find out what collections are currently on display or contact us on  01904 687687.

Ichthyosaurs were marine reptiles and this one, found near Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast, was particularly large, measuring around eight metres – one of the biggest ever discovered in Britain.

It is about 180 million years old and dates from the Jurassic period, when dinosaurs walked the earth.

There were many different species of ichthyosaurs, and this specimen belonged to a species called Temnodontosaurus crassimanus. It was originally named by Richard Owen, the first superintendent of the Natural History Museum, who also came up with the name “dinosaurs”!

It is a “type specimen” which makes it very important scientifically, as it is the reference specimen for this species. All worldwide specimens that might belong to this species are checked against our specimen to see if they share the same diagnostic features.

We were given the ichthyosaur in 1857 after it was discovered by men quarrying alum near Whitby. It was quite common for them to find fossils in the area and they would take care to remove them carefully to pass on to geologists and collectors.

The alum quarrying industry died out in the 1860s so we are very fortunate to have obtained this example.

For many years it was mounted on the back wall of the ground floor of the museum, but 20 years ago was taken down due to concerns about its condition.

The skeleton, which is made up of more than 50 pieces, is now back on display in our Extinct gallery, after being cleaned and conserved, where the scale of the beast can be fully appreciated.