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The remains of a “well-preserved” pregnant dinosaur with several embryos still inside it have been unearthed by paleontologists in Chile in a ground-breaking expedition.

The fossil is the first complete ichthyosaur from the country, and was uncovered by Dr Pardo-Pérez from the Universidad de Magallanes; the first female palaeontologist to lead a major expedition in Patagonia.

The 139-million-year-old reptile has been nicknamed “Fiona”.

Fiona, the ichthyosaur, is four-metres-long. Her remains were first discovered in 2009.
Fiona the ichthyosaur is four metres long. Her remains were first discovered in 2009. (University of Manchester)

Fiona was recovered from a retreating glacier in a remote region within the Torres del Paine National Park during a gruelling 31-day expedition.

A 10-hour-hike or horse ride was needed to reach the site. Scientists were subject to volatile weather, had to evade pumas, and navigate rocky outcrops.

After all that, Fiona’s intact remains were delicately collected using a helicopter.

Despite the challenges, the expedition was beyond successful; in addition to Fiona, scientists collected 23 new specimens.

Reconstruction of the Shonisaurus, a giant ichthyosaur.
Reconstruction of shonisaurus, a species of giant ichthyosaur. (Nobumichi Tamura)

“The results of the expedition met all expectations, and even more than expected,” Pardo-Pérez said.

Dr Dean Lomax, a palaeontologist and a visiting scientist at the University of Manchester, who was part of the team said, “on average, two ichthyosaurs were found every day”.

Ichthyosaurs are ancient marine reptiles that thrived during much of the Mesozoic era.

Twenty three other specimens were recovered in addition to Fiona.
Twenty-three other specimens were recovered in addition to Fiona. (University of Manchester)
“The fact that these incredible ichthyosaurs are so well preserved in an extreme environment, revealed by a retreating glacier, is unlike anywhere else in the world,” Lomax said.

“The considerable number of ichthyosaurs found in the area, including complete skeletons of adults, juveniles, and newborns, provides a unique window into the past.”

Fiona will now be prepared in the palaeontology laboratory of the Río Seco Natural History Museum in Punta Arenas, where it will be temporarily stored for later exhibition.

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