Gigantic skull of prehistoric sea monster found on England’s ‘Jurassic Coast’

Gigantic skull of prehistoric sea monster found on England’s ‘Jurassic Coast’

CNN — The remarkably well-preserved skull of a gigantic pliosaur, a prehistoric sea monster, has been discovered on a beach in the county of Dorset in southern England, and it could reveal secrets about these awe-inspiring creatures.

Pliosaurs dominated the oceans at a time when dinosaurs roamed the land. The unearthed fossil is about 150 million years old, almost 3 million years younger than any other pliosaur find. Researchers are analyzing the specimen to determine whether it could even be a species new to science.

Originally spotted in spring 2022, the fossil, along with its complicated excavation and ongoing scientific investigation, are now detailed in the upcoming BBC documentary “Attenborough and the Jurassic Sea Monster,” presented by legendary naturalist Sir David Attenborough, that will air February 14 on PBS.

Such was the enormous size of the carnivorous marine reptile that the skull, excavated from a cliff along Dorset’s “Jurassic Coast,” is almost 6.6 feet long. In its fossilized form, the specimen weighs over half a metric ton. Pliosaurs species could grow to 50 feet in length, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.

The fossil was buried deep in the cliff, about 36 feet above the ground and 49 feet down the cliff, local paleontologist Steve Etches, who helped uncover it, told CNN in a video call.

Extracting it proved a perilous task, one fraught with danger as a crew raced against the clock during a window of good weather before summer storms closed in and the cliff eroded, possibly taking the rare and significant fossil with it.

Etches first learned of the fossil’s existence when his friend Philip Jacobs called him after coming across the pliosaur’s snout on the beach. Right from the start, they were “quite excited, because its jaws closed together which indicates (the fossil) is complete,” Etches said.

After using drones to map the cliff and identify the rest of the pliosaur’s precise position, Etches and his team embarked on a three-week operation, chiseling into the cliff while suspended in midair.

“It’s a miracle we got it out,” he said, “because we had one last day to get this thing out, which we did at 9:30 p.m.”

Etches took on the task of painstakingly restoring the skull. There was a time he found “very disillusioning” as the mud, and bone, had cracked, but “over the following days and weeks, it was a case of …, like a jigsaw, putting it all back. It took a long time but every bit of bone we got back in.”

It’s a “freak of nature” that this fossil remains in such good condition, Etches added. “It died in the right environment, there was a lot of sedimentation … so when it died and went down to the seafloor, it got buried quite quickly.”