"Biggest Fish Ever Found" Unearthed in U.K.

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This may provide a clue to the sudden extinction of Leedsichthys. Researchers have puzzled over the fact the fish isn't known before the Mid Jurassic period, while no remains have been found later than the early Late Jurassic. One theory is that the fish's evolution was closely linked with a sudden rise in sea levels which engulfed much of Europe. As these plankton-rich seas started to recede, so the fortunes of Leedsichthys also began to ebb.

Extinction Theories

"Nobody's sure quite why it became extinct," said Barker. "But the collapse of the marine ecosystem due to environmental changes must be a leading contender."

Liston puts forward another possibility, linking its demise with the emergence of a brash new breed of bony fishes called teleosts. This group makes up around 95 percent of bony fish living today, including everything from tuna and cod and to halibut and salmon.

Liston believes teleosts would have had a crucial competitive edge over pachycormids due to their reproductive strategy. While Leedsichthys relied on relatively small numbers of well-developed young to perpetuate the species, the newcomers produced huge quantities of small eggs.

"Teleosts start to radiate and diversify at this time," he added. "So imagine a numbers race taking place, where teleosts suddenly become far more successful because there are far more of them, then you can see the pachycormids are going to get edged out."

Once all the remains are removed from the dig site, Liston says it will take many months and even years to piece them back together, with further funding needed to complete the work.

But eventually the world's biggest known fish will be in a fit state to show the public. Provided, of course, they can find somewhere big enough to display it.

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