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Discovering Secrets of Ancient Sea Life: Unveiling Insights from a Giant Pliosaur Skull

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AN ENORMOUS Jurassic pliosaur skull extracted from a cliff in Dorset, UK, is offering scientists a wealth of new information about these sea reptiles. “It’s very likely a new species,” says Judyth Sassoon at the University of Bristol, UK.

BNPS.co.uk (01202 558833) Pic: MaxWillcock/BNPS EMBARGO UNTIL 00:01 MONDAY 11 DECEMBER 2023 Pictured: The teeth of the pliosaur. The incredible story of the discovery of a huge sea monster that was bigger and deadlier than a T-Rex is to be told in a new Sir David Attenborough documentary. The legendary naturalist helped uncover the 7ft long skull of the pliosaur - an apex predator that ruled the seas around Britain's Jurassic Coast 150 million years ago. The fossil is not only the most complete pliosaur skull ever found but it also represents a new species of the ferocious marine reptile.

The fossil was the subject of a new documentary, Attenborough and the Giant Sea Monster, which premiered on BBC One on 1 January and will air on PBS in the US in February. The skull is so well preserved that CT scans revealed the sensory pits on the snout (pictured above) were connected to blood vessels and nerves, allowing the pliosaur to detect changes in pressure and hunt prey in murky waters (pictured below, in a CGI image from the documentary).

Attenborough and the Giant Sea Monster,01-01-2024,Pliosaur (giant sea monster) diving down, with jaws open, towards an ichthyosaur. **STRICTLY EMBARGOED NOT FOR PUBLICATION UNTIL 00:01 HRS ON MONDAY 11TH DECEMBER 2023** ,BBC Studios,Screengrab

There is hope that the rest of the fossil is still intact in the cliff. “There may be evidence on its skeleton of how it met its death,” says Steve Etches, who led the team to extract and prepare the skull. Etches is shown below, examining the snout with David Attenborough, left, in a still from the documentary.

Attenborough and the Giant Sea Monster,01-01-2024,Sir David Attenborough, Steve Etches,Sir David Attenborough and Steve Etches examine the fossilised snout of a pliosaur in the workshop of the Etches Collection Museum, Kimmeridge, Dorset, UK **STRICTLY EMBARGOED NOT FOR PUBLICATION UNTIL 00:01 HRS ON MONDAY 11TH DECEMBER 2023**,BBC Studios,Screengrab

Sir David Attenborough and Steve Etches examine the fossilised snout of a pliosaur

Surface scans of the specimen have helped scientists estimate the strength of its bite. Emily Rayfield, a palaeontologist at the University of Bristol, suggests its bite force would have been twice that of a saltwater crocodile, one of the most powerful known bites. Evidence of trihedral teeth, with two sharp cutting edges and striated grooves, is shown below.

Pliosaur skull has been discovered in Dorset, UK. The find is part of a David Attenborough BBC documentary, called Attenborough and the Giant Sea Monster and will The find is part of a David Attenborough BBC documentary, called Attenborough and the Giant Sea Monster and will go on show to the public next year at the Etches Collection in Dorset, UK. Images taken at the Etches Collection in Kimmeridge, Dorset. Pictured - the new pliosaur skull fossil and teeth restored by Steve Etches

The grooves are believed to stop a vacuum forming when the teeth are plunged into prey, allowing the pliosaur to repeatedly and swiftly bite down, and further cementing its place as one of the deadliest predators of its time. The skull is on show at the Etches Collection in Dorset, UK.

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