Scientists have discovered the fossil remains of an ancient marine reptile in the act of being born.

The fossil shows that the little icthyosaur was just starting to swim headfirst out of its mother’s body at the time of its death, with two other icthyosaur embryos still awaiting their own birth experience.

The rare fossil was discovered in what was once an inland sea that split China in two. Today, the site lies 150 miles east of Shanghai near the city of Chaohu in Anhui province. Scientists believe the embryos and their mother were buried in a landslide.

“It must have been pretty close to where they lived because their skeletons were perfectly preserved,” said Ryosuke Motani, a paleobiologist at the University of California, Davis.

Motani and his colleagues from Peking University and the Anhui Geological Museum have been working at the site for three years.

In that time they have uncovered 80 new icthyosaur skeletons that date back to the early Triassic period, roughly 248 million years ago.

Icthyosaurs, technically called ichthyopterygians, were a group of reptiles that lived at the time of the dinosaurs. They looked a bit like dolphins with a torpedo shaped body and a long, thin snout, and like dolphins, they needed to swim to the surface to breathe. Adults were just under 3 feet long, and they probably ate worms and other small animals living in the sea.

While most land animals give birth head first, most air-breathing marine animals like dolphins and whales give birth tail first.