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QUITE A CATCH! Scientists discover 52-foot fish

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 24th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

For the fishermen out there, netting a prehistoric Leedsichthys fish would have been quite a catch! Living 160 million years ago, the gigantic Leedsichthys fish could have grown as large as 52 feet and weighed more than two busses.  

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Fossils show the plankton-eating creature went extinct at the same time as the dinosaurs.

Researchers from the University of Bristol believe the bony fish could grow to around nine meters in 20 years. After 38 years, the fish could reach 16.5 meters long, outgrowing today's whale sharks.


Leedsichthys means "Leeds" "fish," after the fossil collector Alfred Nicholson Leeds, who discovered it in 1886 near Peterborough, England. 


It's theorized that the Leedsichthys was a filter-feeder that swam the Mesozoic seas for over 100 million years, from the middle Jurassic until the end of the Cretaceous period.


Fossils discovered piecemeal in the 19th Century were believed to be so fragmented that they were difficult to identify, meaning that researchers were unable to determine the fish's length. 


Piecing these samples together, University of Bristol researchers have been able to tell how long the creature was by the position of its gills. It was difficult to work out the fish's exact length because fossils were only found in small fragments. 


The fish is believed to have weighed 21.5 tons, the same as three African elephants. The leviathan of the deep had a life expectancy of around 40 years and had an enormous mouth which acted as a "hoover" to suck up thousands of small fish including shrimps and jellyfish.


"Leedsichthys skeletons preserve poorly, often only as isolated fragments, so previous size estimates were largely historical arm-waving exercises," Professor Jeff Liston of the University of Kunming in China says. 


"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 the oceans of Jurassic Earth.


"This has implications for our understanding of biological productivity in modern oceans and how that productivity has changed over time.


"We looked at a wide range of specimens, not just the bones but also their internal growth structures - similar to the growth rings in trees - to get some idea about the ages of these animals as well as their estimated sizes," Liston says.


"One of the truly fascinating aspects of this fish as a suspension feeder is that it seems to have developed a unique mesh structure on its gills to help it extract plankton as the seawater passed through its mouth.
"Extremely delicate and rarely-preserved, it resembles the honeycomb pattern in a bee-hive. It functioned like a trawler's net to trap plankton, and obviously was very effective, given the large sizes this animal achieved.
"This mesh structure is very different to what we see in today's suspension-feeding fish and whales. It had a unique way of solving a similar problem."

The longest living bony fish is the Oarfish which can grow up to 55 feet in length.



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