In a captivating collaboration with the BBC, scientists from the University of Southampton are poised to unveil the mysteries of an ancient sea predator that coexisted with dinosaurs. The eagerly anticipated documentary, “Attenborough and the Giant Sea Monster,” featuring insights from the university, is set to premiere on BBC One at 8 pm on New Year’s Day.
Guiding viewers on a mesmerizing journey, Sir David Attenborough, the renowned naturalist and broadcaster, explores the intriguing tale of a massive marine reptile that thrived approximately 150 million years ago. The documentary centers around a colossal pliosaur, with its fossilized skull discovered along the Dorset coast near Kimmeridge Bay.
The narrative unfolds as Sir David engages with leading scientists from various locations across the UK, delving into the enigmatic creature’s past. From its physical characteristics and behaviors to the strategies employed for hunting and predation, the documentary promises an in-depth understanding of this ancient sea monster.
Playing a pivotal role in this scientific exploration is the µ-VIS X-ray Imaging Centre at the University of Southampton. Utilizing advanced scanning technology, researchers at the center meticulously examine the snout section of the fossilized pliosaur skull. Sir David, accompanied by a BBC production crew, visited the university in spring, documenting the intricate process of virtually peeling away layers of fossilized material to expose internal structures, including teeth and the nervous system of the pliosaur.
Experts at the µ-VIS X-ray Imaging Centre, interviewed by Sir David, are set to feature prominently in the documentary. One of them expressed enthusiasm, stating, “Encountering Sir David Attenborough was truly inspiring and a significant reason I pursued a career in paleobiology. The filming experience was exceptional, and having the rare opportunity to share insights about pliosaurs with someone as passionate as Sir David was truly rewarding.”
Sir David himself highlighted the significance of the find, stating, “Pliosaurs were the largest and most formidable hunters in the Jurassic seas, the marine equivalent of T. Rex, you could say. Unfortunately, skulls, which offer the most insights about an animal, often get smashed before fossilization. However, this virtually undamaged specimen promises to unveil new details about these fearsome hunters that once preyed on Lyme Regis’ more well-known ichthyosaurs.”
“Attenborough and the Giant Sea Monster” marks the second instance of the University of Southampton’s µ-VIS X-ray Imaging Centre contributing to a BBC Natural History program. In 2017, the center’s imaging capabilities played a crucial role in virtually reconstructing the skeleton of a 200-million-year-old ichthyosaur for the documentary “Attenborough and the Sea Dragon.”
As the documentary prepares to air on New Year’s Day, audiences can anticipate a captivating blend of cutting-edge science, historical revelations, and Sir David Attenborough’s distinctive storytelling prowess. The University of Southampton’s researchers and the µ-VIS X-ray Imaging Centre continue to be at the forefront of unraveling the mysteries of our planet’s prehistoric past, providing a fascinating glimpse into a bygone era where ancient sea monsters ruled the Jurassic seas.