Attenborough and the Sea Dragon (2018) Movie Script

The remains of a dragon
have just been discovered
in the cliffs of Dorset on the
south-east coast of England...
one that has been hidden in the
rocks for 200 million years.
It was an enormous marine
reptile that ruled the seas
at the same time as the
dinosaurs ruled the land.
Scientifically, it's called an ichthyosaur.
Since Jurassic times,
its fossilized bones have been
locked away in these cliffs.
But now we have a chance to
reveal it and its story.
Lots and lots of bone in there.
The bones are so well preserved,
it may be able to give us
new insights into the lives of
these remarkable creatures.
Together with a team of scientists,
we will reconstruct the skeleton and
compare it to animals alive today.
We'll try to understand how it looked.
We have actual preservation of
the skin of our ichthyosaur.
How extraordinary!
And how it survived in the open ocean.
Could this be a completely
new species of ichthyosaur?
Our search for evidence will lead us
into an intriguing forensic
investigation into how it died.
I think you're looking at a 200
million year old murder mystery.
Solving that mystery will throw
light on the extraordinary world
in the Jurassic seas that once
existed just off our shores.
The story of this extraordinary dragon
starts here in Dorset on the
south coast of England,
one of the most important
geological sites in the world...
the Jurassic Coast.
It stretches for almost 100
miles from Devon to Dorset.
And it was here that the early geologists
first collected evidence that
once the world was ruled
by monstrous reptiles, quite unlike
anything alive on Earth today.
Evidence of creatures that
existed all that time ago
can still be found on these beaches.
Fossil collectors have been coming
here for literally centuries
and these rapidly eroding
cliffs are providing them
with a continuous supply of
exciting things to find.
I started looking for
fossils when I was a boy
and I've never lost the
feeling of excitement
and anticipation of what
one might discover.
The commonest fossils here are
coiled shells called ammonites
and you can find them all over the place.
There's one here on this boulder.
You can see the whorls there,
but it's mostly been worn away by the sea.
But sometimes if you're lucky,
you can find nodules like this
and if you look at them,
you can see there's the edge there
of an ammonite and if I hit it...
If I put on protective glasses
and I hit it, it should...
How about that?
What a find!
Ammonites, in fact, are
quite common on this beach,
but every now and again,
something truly rare
and spectacular is found here
and quite often by this man...
one of the most skilled
fossil hunters I know.
Chris Moore has been collecting
fossils here for more than 30 years.
Recently, he came across a boulder
which he thought might
contain something unusual.
Back in his workshop,
he exposed a mosaic of small,
beautifully preserved bones
which he knew straight
away were the front fins,
the paddles, of an ichthyosaur.
But they were unlike any
he had ever seen before.
I still collect fossils.
I even have the remains of an ichthyosaur...
a small one of a kind
that's relatively common.
This was collected by Chris
about ten years ago in Dorset.
I never found anything
as beautiful as this.
It's got jaws and it's got
teeth and it's got paddles.
And Dorset was the very first place
where they found a really complete
skeleton of one of these creatures.
This is a picture of it,
published for the very first time in 1814.
People thought it was some kind
of monster, but what was it?
They thought it was a kind of cross
between a reptile and a fish
so they called it an ichthyosaur
- A fish lizard or sea dragon.
Since that time, many fossil
fragments of ichthyosaurs
have been discovered on the Jurassic Coast.
But complete skeletons are very rare.
The particular one that
Chris has just found
is significantly different from any
that's ever been found here before.
It's not easy to get to the
beach where it was discovered.
At high tide, the only
way to do so is by boat.
I asked Chris where the rest of
the skeleton might still lie.
It's in the very top limestone bed
where the cliffs are at the lowest point.
It's got about two metres on top of clay
and we'll have to clear this material off
till we get to the limestone bed.
It' a lot of hard work.
It's a lot of digging, yeah, and
also we have to do it, really,
before the winter turns again
and the weather gets bad
because there's a chance
that the next landslip
will just push it off onto
the beach and destroy it.
In Jurassic times, sea
covered all this area.
On its floor, sediments
washed down from the land
turned into layers of shales and limestone.
The land rose, the sea retreated
and now in the rocks,
you can find the remains of the creatures
that once lived in those ancient waters.
As well as the remains of ammonites,
there are the bones of fish,
such as sharks.
But the top predators at this time
were reptiles - ichthyosaurs.
They dominated the seas for
more than 150 million years.
After getting permission to dig,
the team clamber down the
cliff to the particular layer
where the rest of our ichthyosaur
skeleton should be lying.
I'm going to need at least another metre,
cos I need to drop down to the next bit.
It's dangerous work.
These cliffs occasionally
collapse without warning.
To make sure that they don't
damage any of the fossils,
the team do all the digging by hand.
There's just loads of roots.
Tonnes of clay have to be
removed before they even reach
the layer of limestone where they hope
the rest of the bones still lie.
It was on this very coast
that the first complete skeleton
of an ichthyosaur was discovered.
It was found in the 19th century
by a remarkable woman called Mary Anning.
Mary lived in the little
town of Lyme Regis,
the daughter of a cabinet maker
who collected fossils as a hobby.
When Mary was only 11, her father died
so she and her brother started
selling fossils to visitors
to support their widowed mother.
Lyme Regis Museum now devotes a
whole gallery to her and her finds.
Mary had an extraordinary talent
for finding fossils and in 1811,
she discovered this gigantic creature,
the like of which no-one
had ever seen before.
Dinosaurs had not yet been discovered.
No-one had any idea that
way back in pre-history,
there were such gigantic creatures,
so this caused a sensation.
It was then that the
popular name "sea dragon"
was given to these prehistoric monsters.
Scientists speculated on how they lived
and artists tried to imagine
what they must have looked like
and how they behaved.
Back at the cliff face, Chris
and his team are hard at it.
But they haven't found any more bones.
This is a massive piece. Tombstone!
Right, ready?
Chris is convinced that the skeleton
to which the paddles belonged
must be somewhere here and
they check every rock.
Beautiful shale!
- Lovely!
- Anything interesting?
- Moment of truth...
- Just push it off.
- Yeah.
Is there anything showing?
Nothing else here.
Oh, gosh, that's hard work.
I hope there's something here.
I almost don't want to look!
- Ah!
- What have you found?
- There's a bone.
- Loads of bone going all the way... There's bone there.
- There's something here!
At long last, the team's
efforts are rewarded.
We've got some bones here!
- There's loads of bones.
- Fantastic!
Ah! What's this?
Is that a vertebrae?
But the bones are not in the position
the team had expected to find them.
Instead of lying across
the face of the cliff,
the skeleton seems to be
bending back into it.
We're going to have to
go down through there.
It means much more work.
And to make matters worse,
a storm is brewing.
The rain is just starting,
but I think we've got to
make a bit of a run for it.
We won't be working any more in this
for the moment. It's torrential.
Beautiful rainbow, though.
A rainbow will be little
comfort if the storm persists.
Rough seas and heavy downpours
can cause landslips,
which could easily destroy any
chance of retrieving the bones.
It was after just such a storm
that Chris found the front limbs,
the paddles of our sea dragon.
They convinced him that the
fossil was something special.
VOICEOVER: You can see why
when you compare them
VOICEOVER: to the paddles
of the kind of ichthyosaur
VOICEOVER: that's usually found here.
This is an adult and this is
the paddle of this creature
and if you compare it to this one...
- Oh, it's huge. Oh, yeah.
- I've never seen anything quite like it.
There are half a dozen rows of
digits there and how many there?
I think there's at least
nine or ten crossways
and obviously, you know,
many more in length.
It's getting on for twice
the number of digits.
- And the whole shape of the fin is completely...
- Quite different.
And must be new, therefore?
- I think so. I've never seen anything quite like it.
- How exciting!
VOICEOVER: It's extremely rare to find
VOICEOVER: a new species
of ichthyosaur these days.
Only nine have been discovered
here in the last 200 years.
But can these strange
paddles tell us something
about how this odd ichthyosaur lived?
To try and find out, we are going to
construct a three-dimensional model.
To do that, we first need to
have the paddles scanned.
So, Chris is taking them
to Southampton University.
Here, the engineering department
has one of the largest
high resolution scanners in the country.
It's not every day someone walks in
with a 200-million-year-old sea reptile.
The machine can scan objects of
all different shapes and sizes
from ancient coins to the
components of spacecraft.
To create a picture, the scanner
takes thousands of X-ray images
in cross sections through
the fossil as it rotates.
It's not long before the
first images appear.
That's amazing. It looks really clear.
You can even see the bones
laying underneath the paddle.
At the moment, we're
just doing one section.
We're going to do multiple
scans down the specimen
and build it all back together
into a three-dimensional volume.
The scans of the paddles are
sent to Bristol University.
Here, scientists can isolate the
image of each bone within the rock
and then assemble them to create a
detailed three-dimensional model.
The team is particularly
excited by the shape
and structure of these paddles
and I've come to find out why.
We've got a complete paddle here
taken from the bones itself,
fully reconstructed, rearticulated
so this is as close as we can get
to what it would have looked like.
We can actually start using
this paddle to try and tell us
what species it might have been.
Because of the size of the paddle
and the way that some of these
bones articulate with each other,
it's different to other ichthyosaurus
and so this could be a new species.
- That would be great.
- It would be jolly exciting.
VOICEOVER: We won't know for sure
until we find the rest of the body,
but can the paddles tell us something
about the way in which this creature swam?
There are a lot of bones in this paddle,
which would have been
good for holding steady
and also for allowing it to
be manoeuvrable in the water.
- There would have been cartilage
round that, wouldn't there? - Yes.
All of the gaps between the bones
would have been filled in with cartilage
and even further around the paddle itself,
giving it a paddle-like shape,
giving it a cross section
a bit like an aerofoil
so that it could cut
straight through the water.
- Could they fold them in to the side?
- Probably not.
Looking at the muscles
and where they attach,
it suggests these are moving up and down,
helping it to turn very quickly
or keeping it on the straight and narrow
when it wants to be a little more sedate.
The shape of the paddles
and the way they moved
seems very like the way an animal
alive today uses its paddles.
That animal usually lives
in tropical waters
like these in the Caribbean.
The sea here is warm
with temperatures much
like they would have been
in Jurassic times around Britain.
And the animal in question...
is the dolphin.
Dolphins, of course, are mammals,
not reptiles like ichthyosaurs.
Nonetheless, the two groups have
bodies shaped in very similar ways.
The front fins or paddles of both
would have helped to steady themselves
as they turn and cut through the water.
And both have similar dorsal fins.
So, although they lived
200 million years apart,
dolphins and ichthyosaurs share
many physical characteristics
and that's because they
evolved in similar ways
as a response to a similar environment.
Like dolphins,
ichthyosaurs evolved from ancestors
that had once lived on land.
As they became adapted to life in water,
they lost the ability to walk,
their bodies became more streamlined
and their forelimbs turned into
paddles to help them swim.
But ichthyosaurs do differ from
dolphins in two striking ways.
Dolphins have tails that
are flattened horizontally
and they drive themselves forward
by beating their tails up and down.
But we know from their fossils
that ichthyosaur tails
were flattened vertically
like those of sharks,
so they must have swum
in the same sort of way
by sweeping their tails from side to side.
Ichthyosaurs, unlike dolphins,
also had back paddles.
They, too, would have helped
stabilise them as they swam.
And what's more, the
paddles of our ichthyosaur
are particularly large and long,
rather like those of the
oceanic whitetip shark.
That shape helps the whitetip
to cruise for long distances
with very little expenditure of
energy in their search for food.
So, it could be that our ichthyosaur
was also a long-distance traveller
and only an infrequent visitor
to the Lyme Regis seas,
which could be why no-one has ever
found one of these here before.
Back at the dig site, the
rain has stopped at last.
But the storm is a reminder
that winter is on its way.
The team must try to extract
the rest of the dragon's body
before worse weather arrives.
That's how hard the rock is.
It's actually smashed
the end off the chisel.
So, you can see what we're dealing with.
At last, they find signs of
the rest of the skeleton.
- Lots and lots of bone in there.
- Yeah.
Ribs and all sorts of stuff.
And there's another particularly
exciting discovery.
- Is there skin?
- Yeah, look.
- Oh, really?
They've found signs of fossilized skin.
Rare, isn't it?
Yeah, very rare.
The blocks that contain bones and skin
can't be thrown down like the other rocks.
They must be carefully strapped
up and gently lowered.
That's the first block down.
A few more to go, but if they go
like that, I'll be very pleased.
Two weeks after they started work, I
go down again to check on progress.
- How's it going?
- Well, quite well so far.
- A lot shifted.
- Yeah, about 20 tonnes of it, I think.
- Really?
- Yes.
How's it doing? Is it caught?
- No, it's OK.
- It's OK? Yeah.
What do you reckon's in it?
This block's got vertebrae,
the other part of the ribcage
and it's definitely got the
back paddles in there.
You can see a cross section through them.
VOICEOVER: While the team continue
lowering the huge blocks,
VOICEOVER: Chris shows me what
they've already collected.
So, lots over here.
- Ah, well, I can see something there.
- Ah!
- That's more obvious, yeah.
- Yeah.
Here, you can see,
glinting in the sunlight,
sections through the backbone,
the vertebral column.
And these are the ribs that are
still attached to the vertebrae
and these are the neurals
that come off the backbone.
The spines off the top of the back.
- Yeah, but they've actually got skin preserved on them.
- No, really? - Yeah.
- Can you see that here?
- Well, that's the very black.
You can see it on the impression as well.
VOICEOVER: This is great news,
but something puzzles me.
Would the head have been
on this side or that side?
Most likely here in this next slab.
- And it's not there?
- Not so far.
Oh, boy!
How many more tonnes to go?
- Only a few!
Once the blocks are down on the beach,
the team remove as much
excess limestone as possible
to make them lighter.
Even then, they're extremely heavy
so to get them back to Lyme Regis,
they're loaded onto a pontoon
and towed back by boat.
So, for the first time
in 200 million years,
our strange ichthyosaur once
again takes to the water.
The dig may be over,
but the investigation
is only just beginning.
Now, the work becomes more delicate,
involving not sledgehammers,
but small vibrating chisels
that chip off the limestone in tiny flakes.
It's detailed work that will
take months to complete.
It's like a jigsaw puzzle
of things you can't see.
It's almost forensic.
You don't know the story, you don't
know what's inside the block
until you reveal it.
I've never seen in all my years an
ichthyosaur that looked like this
so every other part of the
skeleton that we reveal
is very exciting cos you're never
quite sure what's going on,
what it's going to look like and
it is, it's very different.
Day after day and week after week,
Chris and his team work patiently
to expose more of the skeleton.
And as they do so, the bones
reveal something very intriguing.
I've come down to Chris'
workshop to take a look.
It's a bit of squeeze past the plesiosaur.
VOICEOVER: It really is an Aladdin's cave.
VOICEOVER; After weeks of work,
VOICEOVER: Chris has exposed
the backbones and ribs.
So, this is it so far.
VOICEOVER: And in doing so, he's
made a startling discovery.
It looks like it's been attacked.
- Gosh!
- There's breakages all through the ribcage.
If you follow one rib, you
go along here, down to here,
then this piece corresponds to
this, which then goes over to here
so one rib is now broken into three pieces.
How extraordinary! But
what's happened here?
Here, the vertebral column's
been actually pulled away.
I'm fairly positive it was
done in life and the paddles,
the flippers have been ripped off.
Where would they go?
But they're in a very odd
position, aren't they?
I mean, they're pointing
in the wrong direction.
They should be basically in this position
and facing the other way up
and they've been ripped
off and turned over.
Well, where was the head?
The head should be here.
- That's the very last vertebrae.
- Back of the neck?
- Yeah.
So, the head's been torn off
and there's no evidence.
There's no teeth or pieces of bone.
It's completely gone.
- So, it's a murder.
- Yes!
- Really?
Yeah, I think it was killed.
- Did this predator crunch the head, do you think?
- Who knows?
It's 200 millions years ago,
so it's a bit of guesswork,
really, isn't it?
So, it's a murder story
without a complete body yet.
To find out more, we need to
reveal the rest of the skeleton.
So it's all hands on deck.
They've even roped me in.
This is more difficult than it looks.
Very good!
Could you start on three days a week?
- Is it all right?
- It's good, yeah.
- I haven't gone too close to the bone?
- No, no.
- Phew, that's a relief!
But what of the missing head?
If it was ripped off,
Chris thinks he might
still be able to find it
somewhere on the beach,
so at every opportunity,
he scours the area where
the first block was found.
The best time to look is after a storm
when a strong sea has
moved sand and shingle
and perhaps revealed the rocks beneath.
To try and deduce just how our
ichthyosaur met its fate,
we've sent images of the fossil
to someone who specialises
in investigating the cause of
death in prehistoric animals.
You sent me some photographs and I
had a look at some of these breaks.
Now, first of all, I noticed this, here.
If you look, you can just see this
bulbous piece on the rib here.
This is where the rib has
healed after a break
and the animal's gone
on to live another day.
There's a bite mark here that runs
all the way up the paddle bones.
You can see that it's healed as well.
Yeah, it's definitely an old injury.
- This animal's had a little bit of a bad start in life.
- Yeah.
But some of the other breaks
tell a different story.
If you look down here and
especially this one,
this fracture here mirrors
that fracture there
and then we can see a
whole line of fractures
where there's no new bone growth.
Something has actually
crushed this ribcage.
So look here at these neural spines.
These are absolutely perfect
and then from here, they're
broken all the way down to here.
This is the last one that's
broken and then here,
they're perfect again.
So, there to there is damaged.
On the ribs, there to there
is damaged and here, too,
and also on some of these belly ribs
so I think there's a bite
which goes right across here.
That probably reflects the width of
the skull of the animal that bit it.
Yeah, yeah. So it came
in across here, almost.
Somewhere like that, yeah.
There was a massive bite, it
caused catastrophic injury
and, remember, the ribcage
is protecting lungs.
This was an air-breathing
marine animal and as a swimmer,
these lungs are vital not just for
breathing, but for its buoyancy.
So, once this ribcage is punctured
and the lungs are punctured,
this animal is dead.
It can't breathe
and also it's going to sink straight
down to the sea floor as well.
It's quite likely that the
animal that killed this animal,
presumably it was looking for food,
it didn't get to eat it.
Oh, no, I think it just killed it.
It didn't eat it, or else
it wouldn't be so intact.
So this probably all took
place in the surface water,
but as soon as it's done this injury,
this thing just sank like a stone
straight down to the sea floor
and then it was lost to the
animal that was trying to eat it.
So, it looks as if Chris'
attack theory might be right.
But what type of creature
could possibly have inflicted
so much damage to our sea dragon?
A rather unusual fossil in Chris'
collection might give us a clue.
This is fossilised ichthyosaur
droppings called a coprolite
and what makes it particularly interesting
is that within this piece of
dung, you can see fish scales.
So, that shows that
ichthyosaurs were fish eaters,
but more than that, this one
is even more interesting
because in this piece of dung, there
are teeth - ichthyosaur teeth.
So, the animal that produced this
was almost certainly a cannibal.
It ate other ichthyosaur species.
Could it be that our dragon was
killed by one of its own kind?
To find out more,
I've come to the Natural History
Museum of Stuttgart in Germany.
Here, they have one of the most impressive
and varied collections of
ichthyosaurs in the world.
They came in all shapes and sizes,
but of all the ichthyosaurs that
existed 200 million years ago,
there was one which was
particularly fearsome.
This is temnodontosaurus,
one of the biggest of the sea
dragons so far discovered.
They grew up to 10m long
and individual bones have
been discovered which suggest
that they could grow even bigger than that.
The remains of these
terrifying sea monsters
were discovered in a quarry
just outside Stuttgart.
These are the biggest complete
temnodontosaurus fossils ever found.
This huge predator had the
largest eye known of any animal,
which would have given it
extremely acute eyesight.
Not only that, but the eye was surrounded
by a ring of scutes - bony plates...
to protect it from the
water pressure at depth.
So, with eyes the size of footballs,
this monster was able to hunt at
all depths of the Jurassic ocean.
It also had rows of sharp teeth
that would have allowed it to
rip apart almost anything.
These teeth are shaped like blades,
well suited for cutting into flesh.
And here's another specimen
of temnodontosaurus
that is proof positive that
it really was a hunter.
Here is its stomach and inside its stomach,
you can see these tiny
little circular bones,
which are the backbones, the
vertebrae, of a baby ichthyosaur.
So we now know that temnodontosaurus
could devour young ichthyosaurs,
but would one have been capable
of eating an adult ichthyosaur like ours?
Fossils of temnodontosaurus have
been found in other regions,
including our own Jurassic Coast.
So, this monster could
well be our prime suspect.
To build our case further,
we're going to analyse another
specimen of the same species
that was found on the Jurassic Coast.
This is the skull of a temnodontosaurus
and as you can see, it's huge.
This specimen was found by Mary Anning
on the Dorset coast in the 19th century
and we are hoping that
we may be able to use it
with the latest techniques
to tell us just how powerful
these great jaws could be.
So, for the first time ever,
our team of scientists
are going to attempt to calculate
the bite strength of a temnodontosaurus.
The first step is to scan the skull.
Not as easy as it sounds.
Very few scanners are big enough,
but there's one here at the
Royal Veterinary College,
where they're more accustomed
to scanning horses.
The temnodontosaurus skull is 2m
long and weighs more than 200kg.
Luckily, it's in two pieces.
Otherwise it couldn't be fitted
into even this huge scanner.
OK. One, two, three and up.
These scans will help the team
to not only reconstruct the
temnodontosaurus' skull,
but also work out the
size of its jaw muscles.
They can then assess the power
of this huge predator's bite
and see if it was strong enough
to kill our ichthyosaur.
Temnodontosaurs are unusual
in that they had huge, sharp
teeth for cutting through flesh,
but how did other ichthyosaurs
catch their prey?
To get a clue, I've come to see a
modern day predator in action.
That is a gharial crocodile from Indonesia.
Its jaws, as you can see,
are not wide and flat
like an African crocodile's,
but long and thin and
because of that shape,
there's very little resistance to the water
so they can snatch fish, which
they do very effectively.
They're very formidable animals indeed.
Ichthyosaurs must have fed in
much the same way as that.
Their jaws were very similar
to those of the gharial...
simple studs to grip the
prey, no need to chew it
because the jaws at the
back were quite big enough
to enable the animal to
swallow their prey whole,
just as the gharial does.
Gharials regularly shed their teeth
and here's one I've just
picked out of this pool.
You can see that they're very simple
teeth, just like ichthyosaur teeth.
But that's all you need if all you
have to do is to grab a fish.
So, it's likely that our ichthyosaur
had teeth and jaws specially adapted
to catch small, slippery fish and squid,
just like a gharial crocodile.
Back in Lyme Regis, the work on the
bones has taken a dramatic turn.
Chris has found that
there is fossilized skin
over nearly the whole skeleton.
It seems to be virtually
covering the whole thing.
It's rare to find any sign
whatever of skin on fossils,
let alone so much of it.
Fiann Smithwick, an expert
on fossilized skin,
has come to take a sample back to his lab.
We can look and see if there's any evidence
of the original pigment
preserved in the skin.
- Oh, that's a lovely piece.
- That's really good. That'll be perfect.
Fiann hopes that this
remarkably preserved sample
might tell us what the skin looked
like and even what colour it was.
At the University of Bristol,
he places a tiny sample of the
fossilized skin in a machine
that coats its surface with
minute particles of gold.
They will reflect the rays of a
scanning electron microscope.
It's astonishing that you can actually see
the remains of skin on
such an ancient fossil.
But this microscope can
also magnify its structure
tens of thousands of times.
Here, we have an exceptional level
of preservation of the skin
of our ichthyosaur, despite
being 200 million years old,
so the structures we're looking at here
are around half a micrometre across
and a micrometre is one
millionth of a metre
and you see here these little granules
and these are preserved melanosomes.
Now, melanosomes contain the pigment
that you have in mammal hair,
in bird feathers and in reptile
skin and the abundance of them
and the distribution of them can tell us
about the overall colour
patterns of the animal.
So, having a high abundance means
you're likely to be darker
and having a low abundance means
you're likely to be lighter.
This area has come from the back.
There's a large abundance
of these melanosomes.
There's a lot of pigment here
and when we look at samples
that have come from the
bottom of the animal,
we don't see this pigment
in this level of abundance
so it most likely had a much
darker back than it did a belly
and this conforms to a
type of colour pattern
known as countershading in modern animals.
You can see countershading in
lots of sea animals today.
Great white sharks, for example.
Both predators and prey
are coloured in this way.
It makes them more difficult to
see both from above and below.
So, this is the first time
that we've actually seen
evidence of a countershaded
pattern in an ichthyosaur.
So, that really is a step
forward in our knowledge.
It is and it can tell us
a huge amount about the way
the animal might have lived.
Just from looking at that picture?
- Just from looking at these melanosomes.
- Great!
Today, countershaded animals
tend to live in open water
where there's good visibility.
Ichthyosaurs also lived in the open seas
so being camouflaged in this way
would have been very valuable to them.
The latest scientific research
suggests that countershading
might also protect against
ultraviolet light
and even help to regulate body temperature.
As an air-breathing creature,
our ichthyosaur would have had to
spend much time near the surface.
So countershading could have been a
benefit for that reason as well.
There are, of course,
many marine reptiles still living
in the oceans today, like turtles.
The biggest of them is the leatherback,
whose ancestors, in fact, were around
at the same time as the ichthyosaurs.
Today, they come ashore
to nest in many places,
including the Caribbean.
This huge leatherback
turtle is laying her eggs.
She's hauled her way up
from the sea and dug a hole
and now she's depositing about 100 of them.
She'll then fill in the hole
and then work her way down back to the sea.
It's clearly a very laborious process.
And that's the challenge facing all
reptiles that live in the sea...
having to come onto land to lay eggs.
Ichthyosaurs were reptiles
and they lived in the sea,
but they were so well
adapted to a life at sea,
that they gave birth to live young
and that would have saved the sea dragons
making the dangerous journey onto land.
There is remarkable evidence
that ichthyosaurs gave birth
to live young in the Stuttgart museum.
And here is a truly extraordinary,
beautiful, almost poignant fossil...
proof positive that ichthyosaurs
gave birth to live young.
Here is the baby, just at the moment
that it's leaving the birth canal.
It comes out tail first and
as soon as it was freed,
it would have risen to the surface
to take its first breath.
But something happened before that did
and here is the proof.
Whatever it was, death
must have been instant.
So, ichthyosaurs gave birth to live babies,
just as many sharks do today.
After several weeks of research,
the team at Bristol University have managed
to reconstruct the skull
of the temnodontosaurus
so that they can analyse
the power of its jaws.
How do you assess the strength
of this animal's bite?
Well, the first thing that we need to know
is the volume of muscle that could
fit into the back of the skull.
So the muscles are attaching round here
and also there's a group of muscles
that are attaching further forward here
and if we know how much
muscle volume there is,
we can estimate how much force
that muscle can generate.
And what did you discover?
We found out that our upper
estimate of bite force
was around 30,000 Newtons and to
put that in a modern day context,
that's twice as powerful as the
largest saltwater crocodile
- that's been measured.
- Twice as powerful?
- Yeah.
- So that's enormous, yeah.
- Yeah, it's a very powerful bite force.
So, this must have been the animal
with the most powerful bite
of its time, mustn't it?
That's absolutely right, yeah.
Of its time, it would have been.
Not only did it have a powerful bite,
its jaw-closing muscles also attach
quite close to the jaw joint.
Now, normally in animals
where that happens,
they have quite a fast,
but less forceful bite,
but the fact that this
animal is actually so big
means that it has a fast bite,
but also by virtue of its sheer size,
it also has quite a
powerful bite as well, too,
so it basically has the
best of both worlds.
- So, this was the king of the Jurassic sea.
- Or queen!
- Yeah.
- Yeah.
So, it seems fairly likely that
temnodontosaurus was strong enough
not only to kill our sea dragon,
but to rip its head clean off.
It must have been a terrifying battle.
Our investigations have given us
a pretty good idea of how
our sea dragon died.
But can the reconstruction work
carried out at Bristol University
tell us more about its life?
All the blocks containing the
fossil have now been scanned.
With those scans,
the team were able to
separate the individual bones
and then put them back together to create
a 3D image of the ichthyosaur's
body before it was attacked.
They've added a head
based on estimates of other
ichthyosaur species.
That's magnificent.
This is the whole animal
and we estimate that it may have
been up to around 4.5m long.
Is that bigger than most in Lyme?
Yes, this is certainly bigger
than most of the ichthyosaurs
that we see at Lyme Regis.
It looks huge. It looks amazing.
Here are the forelimbs right at the front
and we've got hindlimbs here and at
the back, we've got a tail bend.
This is supported by the backbone,
which extends along the
whole length of the body.
- But that bend is natural, isn't it?
That's not a break. - Yes.
That gives strength to the
lower element of the tail
for driving it forward.
Much like a shark,
the tail bend is the main
propulsive organ of the animal.
So, could this be a new species?
Yes, these pieces of evidence together
suggest that it is going to be a new
species and it's jolly exciting.
- They don't come along every day.
- Historic!
- Yes.
This is wonderful news.
A sighting by Chris on
the beach in Lyme Regis
has led to the discovery of a
new species of ichthyosaur,
adding to our knowledge of
these fascinating creatures.
It's extraordinary how much you can
discover from one single fossil.
Digital reconstruction has allowed us
to rebuild this animal to reveal
how it looked and how it moved.
We've discovered, for the first time,
that this creature was countershaded.
But that didn't stop it
from being attacked.
By analysing its bones,
we've been able to work out
that its most likely attacker
was a temnodontosaurus,
the most ferocious predator
of the seas at that time.
It's been a fascinating journey
of discovery, but, for me,
the real wonder is the bones themselves.
I can't wait to see what they look
like when they're finally cleaned.
After many months of painstaking
and patient preparation,
Chris and his team have
finally completed their work
on the fossil of our ancient sea dragon.
Here it is finished.
It's really beautiful, isn't it?
- I mean, it is beautiful, that's for sure.
- Thank you.
- It's a great specimen, isn't it?
- Lovely.
And how many new species have been
discovered in the last 100 years?
Very few, very, very few
and it's thrilling to find something
that's just never been seen before.
Well, it was a long time spent
just revealing the body of this creature,
but it's also revealed
this extraordinary story
of life and death,
predator-prey fighting it out in the seas
200 million years ago just down there.
Yeah, it's a fantastic story.
Really, really thrilling and romantic.
For Chris, this has been a labour of love
and it's filled in another gap
in the palaeontological jigsaw...
a story that all started
with an odd-looking boulder
on a Dorset beach.
It's extraordinary to think
that some 200 million
years ago exactly here,
the greatest predator of its time
was swimming around in the sea
and that's what I really love
about fossils and fossil hunting.
It gives you an
extraordinarily vivid insight
into what the world was like
millions of years before
human beings even appeared on this planet.
Ichthyosaurs died out around
90 million years ago.
No-one knows why,
but standing here and having
excavated that spectacular fossil,
it's not difficult to imagine a time
when dragons really did rule the seas.