The fossilized skull of a giant sea predator discovered on the United Kingdom’s famous Jurassic Coast in Dorset is shedding new light on these apex ocean hunters. Measuring over 6 feet long with massive teeth capable of ripping prey in half, this formidable marine reptile would have ruled the prehistoric seas.
Discovery Draws Global Attention
The remarkable fossils were excavated from dangerously eroding cliffs earlier this year near Charmouth in a top secret operation shrouded in secrecy. Now fully prepped and ready for research, the pliosaur fossils represent one of the largest and potentially most complete specimens ever found in Britain.
Weighing close to a ton, the skull alone required a complex ropes-and-scaffolding system to safely lower it down the crumbling 100 foot tall cliff to a boat waiting at sea. Carefully wrapped and transported to a lab, leading experts confirm the fossils likely represent a new species of pliosaur, an apex ocean predator related to plesiosaurs.
News of the jaw-dropping discovery sent waves through the paleontology world and captured global attention. Sir David Attenborough has reportedly been working on a documentary detailing the dramatic extraction process. Dubbed the “T-Rex of the ocean” for their massive size and lethal bite force, a number of media outlets drew comparisons between the new pliosaur’s hunting prowess and the infamous Tyrannosaurus Rex.
|Carnivore – large terrestrial animals
|Late Cretaceous Period, 68-66 million years ago
|New Dorset Pliosaur
|30+ feet estimated
|4+ tons estimated
|Carnivore – marine animals
|Middle Jurassic Period, 170 million years ago
Hunting Abilities and Past Discoveries
With an elongated neck and four paddle-like limbs, pliosaurs were formidable ocean hunters, using their excellent vision and strong jaws to ambush passing prey. Stalking through shallow coastal waters not far from where their latest cousin was found, earlier pliosaurs likely targeted fish, ammonites, marine reptiles, and even other marine predators.
Paleontologists have previously uncovered pliosaur remains around the world, but rarely have they been this well preserved or complete. Back in 2013, a portion of the largest known pliosaur dubbed “The Monster” was discovered close by in Dorset measuring over 30 feet long from teeth to fin tips. Based on initial analysis, experts believe the new skull could have come from an even bigger creature.
Clues Point to New Species
While the fossil prep process continues, early observations reveal tantalizing clues that the enigmatic marine beast differs significantly from other known pliosaurs. Subtle variations in tooth and skull structure along with proportions suggest to project researchers Dr. Luke Fletcher and Dr. Tim Ewin that this is likely an entirely new species. Comparisons to existing specimens are already underway.
Further research into the fossil’s anatomy, age, and genetics will undoubtedly uncover more details on this apex ocean ambusher’s prehistoric reign through Jurassic seas. Experts are hopeful the remarkable fossils will offer unprecedented insights into these iconic, yet still mysterious sea monsters that ruled ancient shallow coastal waters.
Highly Dangerous Extraction Mission
Transporting the priceless fossils from the eroding cliff face to safety pushed extraction teams to their limits on the stark, inaccessible site. Orchestrating the highly complex endeavor was geology expert Vic Gill, who early on deemed the mission nearly impossible.
Specialist climbers were enlisted to delicately wrap the skull in protective layers before efforts could even begin to hoist it up by pulley systems drilled into the crumbly cliffs. Winds, tides, and the ever-present threat of deadly cliff collapses added to the extreme dangers. A narrow weather window in late February presented the only shot for extraction teams to safely retrieve both fossils.
Against all odds, the perfectly coordinated mission succeeded, much to the relief of the nerves-on-edge crew. Secured aboard a Wave Chieftain vessel, the fossils could finally make their way to a dedicated paleontology lab at Durlston Country Park for initial inspection.
One of Britain’s Most Significant Finds
Hailed as one of the most important British dinosaur discoveries ever, lead researchers can barely contain their excitement over the rare fossils and upcoming studies. Dr. Dean Lomax, a palaeontologist who has written extensively about marine reptiles, calls the pliosaur “one of the greatest finds in British palaeontological history.”
The new Dorset beast promises to resolve ongoing debates about pliosaur evolution and biology that have puzzled experts for over a century. By further analyzing anatomical traits like limbs and delicate inner ear bones, scientists also hope to uncover more clues into how these ultimate ocean predators hunted and moved through water compared to their plesiosaur cousins.
What Happens Next?
Now comes the intensive prep work to carefully separate the skull from the surrounding matrix and stabilization for future display. With digging efforts along eroding cliffs already underway during low tides to search for potential additional pieces, the fossils will eventually make their way to the Dorset County Museum for permanent exhibition.
There marine reptile experts and visitors alike will be able to view these exquisite fossils firsthand and learn more about the Jurassic apex predator that once stalked Britain’s prehistoric oceans. Discoveries like this not only expand our knowledge about long extinct species, but also offer a unique window into evolution and life on Earth hundreds of millions of years ago.
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