Now, after years of painstaking analysis of the jaw, vertebrae and forelimbs, the researchers have determined that Predator X is in fact a new species, and they have officially named it for Bjorn and May-Liss Funke, volunteers who first discovered the fossils.
The pliosaurs, marine reptiles that prowled the seas 160 million to 145 million years ago during the Jurassic period, had short necks, tear-shaped bodies and four large, paddle-shaped limbs that let them "fly through the water," Druckenmiller told LiveScience.
The new species likely lived closer to 145 million years ago and ate plesiosaurs, related long-necked, small-headed reptiles.
The new analysis shows P. funkei had proportionally longer front paddles than other pliosaurs, as well as slightly different vertebrae shape and different spacing of teeth within the jaw, Druckenmiller said.
In 2008, scientists initially estimated that Predator X could have been up to 50 feet (15 m) long. The current study suggests the creature is smaller than that, but still bigger than the largest living apex predator, the killer whale, which tops out at about 30 feet (9 m) long, Druckenmiller said.