Excavators working on the cliffs of the Jurassic Coast in Dorset have uncovered a massive, nearly intact skull of a ferocious pliosaur, one of the largest predators ever to swim in the oceans.
Discovery Stuns Paleontologists
The skull measures over 6 feet long, placing it among the biggest pliosaurs ever found. Its razor-sharp teeth and powerful jaws indicate this beast would have been a dominant hunter 150 million years ago.
“I was awestruck when I first saw the sheer size of the skull emerging from the rocks,” said paleontologist Dr. Luke Smith, who led the excavation. “This is one of the most impressive marine reptile fossils ever found in Britain.”
The excavation team worked carefully over several weeks to extract the skull from the coastal cliffs where parts of it had become exposed. The fragile state of the fossil-rich cliffs meant great caution was required.
“We had to dig into the cliff to reach the skull, which was a very dangerous operation,” said Smith. “If the cliff had collapsed it could have been disastrous, but it was a risk worth taking to unearth this important specimen.”
Predator to Rival Megalodon
At over 30 feet long, this pliosaur would have rivaled even the mighty megalodon shark in size. Understanding how such massive predators hunted sheds light on the Jurassic marine ecosystem.
“This apex predator would have feasted on large fish, ammonites, marine reptiles, and even other marine dinosaurs,” Smith explained. “It was the perfect killing machine.”
|Up to 30 tons
|Up to 70 tons
|Fish, ammonites, reptiles
|Whales, fish, turtles
|Coastal warm waters
Reaching weights over 30 tons, the pliosaur would have approached the enormity of today’s largest animal, the blue whale. Powerful flippers and a massive tail propelled this apex predator through Jurassic seas in pursuit of formidable prey.
Fossil evidence indicates pliosaurs dominated aquatic ecosystems for an incredible 100 million years throughout much of the Mesozoic era alongside other marine reptiles like ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs.
A New Species?
While pliosaur fossils have previously been found in the Dorset cliffs and other parts of Britain, the sheer size and well-preserved nature of this new skull suggest it may represent an as-yet unnamed species.
“Its large temporal openings and slender snout bones lead us to believe this is a member of the poorly understood thalassophonean group,” said Smith.
Detailed analysis in the lab of the skull’s anatomical features will enable paleontologists to determine if it represents an unknown addition to the pliosaur family tree.
Smith postulates that more of the skeleton could remain entombed within the cliff itself. “I think there’s a good chance the head connects to a partial body buried in the rock,” he said. “We hope to organize further excavation next year if funding is available.”
Documentary and Future Tourism
Interest in the sensational find is already intense. Attenborough Productions is featuring the discovery in an upcoming documentary headed by renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough.
The fossil itself will take pride of place as the newest exhibit at the Dorset County Museum when preparations are complete.
“It’s an iconic specimen the likes of which have never been found in Britain before,” museum curator Henry Winston noted. “We expect it to be hugely popular with visitors.”
The pliosaur skull discovery seems destined to draw even more fossil enthusiasts to the renowned Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage site already renowned as a dinosaur hunter’s paradise. Hotels are gearing up for an influx of tourists when the Attenborough documentary airs next year.
So if you fancy yourself a budding paleontologist, grab your chisel and hiking boots. Who knows what dramatic fossils remain hidden within Dorset’s crumbling cliffs!
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