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435 Million Year–Old Fossil Starfish Discovered in Maam Valley, Galway

19th January 2018
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The 435 Million Year–Old Fossil Starfish The 435 Million Year–Old Fossil Starfish Photo: RIA

A 435 million year old fossil starfish has been discovered in the Maam Valley in Galway.

It is described in the latest issue of The Irish Journal of Earth Sciences, published by the Royal Irish Academy, writes Tom MacSweeney. The fossil has been named ‘Crepidosoma doyleii’ in honour of its discoverer Dr. Eamon Doyle, geologist for the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark and Clare County Council. The specimens are housed in the National Museum (Natural History) in Dublin.

The study by international researchers from the USA (Prof. Daniel B. Blake), Holland (Prof. Stephen K. Donovan) and UK (Prof. David Harper) describes a new species of an ophiuroid starfish, commonly known as a ‘brittle star’. Brittle stars first evolved around 500 million years ago and have survived relatively unchanged to the present day, although the ocean that was home to ‘Crepidosoma doyleii’ disappeared 400 million years ago due to plate tectonic movements of the Earth’s crust.

MAAM VALLEYMaam Valley

Prof. David Harper, Durham University, a co-author of the study, said, “The remote areas of the west of Ireland continue to yield some exceptional fossils with a significant impact on understanding of the history of life. These unique specimens of fossil starfish from the Silurian rocks of Connemara are a key piece of evidence in the hunt for past life in the ocean that covered Ireland, some 435 million years ago. We owe a great deal to the painstaking efforts of Dr Eamon Doyle who combed these distant mountains for fossils during his PhD studies at University College Galway.”

Dr. Sarah Gatley of the Geological Survey commented, “This discovery by Dr. Doyle in the area of the Joyce Country aspiring Geopark highlights the need to protect our geological heritage and underlines why the Geological Survey support the three UNESCO Geoparks as well as the aspiring Geoparks in Ireland.”

Dr. Doyle said, “I am delighted with the honour afforded to him by these eminent international palaeontologists. I wish to thank Clare County Council and the Geological Survey for their support and I look forward to presenting some new fossils from the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark in the near future.”

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Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

Thanks to the IWDG work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. Here's the current list: Atlantic white-sided dolphin, beluga whale, blue whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Cuvier's beaked whale, false killer whale, fin whale, Gervais' beaked whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale, killer whale, minke whale, northern bottlenose whale, northern right whale, pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, Risso's dolphin, sei whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, True's beaked whale and white-beaked dolphin.

But as impressive as the species list is the IWDG believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves keep a sharp look out!

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