Author: Nathan Akrill

The enormous skull of a fossilised pliosaur, the scariest marine predator ever to have swam in the worlds oceans, is now on display at the Dorset County Museum.

Sir David Attenborough at the unveiling of the Weymouth Bay Pliosaur fossil

Sir David Attenborough at the unveiling of the Weymouth Bay Pliosaur fossil

The skull is one of the largest and most complete ever found in the world and measures 2.4m in length, making the whole animal 14 to 18 m long. Pliosaurs are a short necked variety of plesiosaurs; marine reptiles with a long neck and tail, and four paddles. They would have fed on everything else in the Jurassic sea including giant fish the size of busses.

The amazing find was made by local collector Kevan Scheehan on the shores of Weymouth Bay. One day back in 2004 he noticed three lumps of bone washed out of a landslide at the base of the cliff. Over the next five years he returned after every storm and gradually recovered the rest of it, only missing four other pieces, three of which have been found by two other collectors. It is a remarkable achievement that demonstrates the continued benefits that fossil collectors bring on this coast where they rescue scientifically important fossils that would otherwise be destroyed by the sea.

The specimen was acquired by the Dorset Museum Service using Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Collecting Cultures’ money match funded by Dorset and Devon County Councils under a project titled ‘Jurassic Life’. It has taken over 700 hours to clean the rock from the bone and reassemble them. The University of Southampton has put all of the bones through their brand new C/T scanner, one of the most powerful in the country, to produce amazing scans of both the surface and internal structures. Further studies need to be done in order to determine what this specimen may tell us about these enormous animals with the biggest bite in the world. One pressing question; could it be a species new to science?

Richard Edmonds, Earth Science Manager.

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