A huge pliosaur skull found on the Dorset coast is set to be the subject of a brand-new David Attenborough documentary.

Attenborough and the Giant Sea Monster follows the presenter as he unearths the secrets behind a newly discovered Jurassic predator whose 150-million-year-old skull was found on a beach near Kimmeridge Bay.

He will be joined by a team of expert scientists and palaeontologists as they embark on a painstaking excavation and restoration of this rare discovery, which they believe could be a new species of pliosaur.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News:

The 12 metre long marine reptile lived around 150 million years ago in the Jurassic period.

Its bite is thought to have been twice that of a great white shark and the reptile has even been described as “the T-rex of the seas.”

A fossil enthusiast was walking along the rocky beaches of Kimmeridge Bay last year when one morning he discovered a jaw of a giant pliosaur.

The site is renowned for its fossils and features some of the most important geological discoveries on the Jurassic Coast.

Many of these were found by renowned palaeontologist Dr Steve Etches MBE, who has spent more than 30 years amassing over 2,000 specimens. His extensive collection is on display at The Etches Collection – a lottery funded fossil museum which was built in the coastal village.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News: The Etches Collection

Mr Etches was subsequently called in to assess the find and he speculated that the rest of the skull could still be encased in the cliff above.

He gathered a team of experts to excavate the rest of the fossil including fellow fossil hunter Chris Moore, who runs a small family fossil business in Charmouth.

Dr Etches and Mr Moore both previously worked with Sir David Attenborough on another documentary about a fossilised marine reptile – Attenborough and the Sea Dragon – back in 2018.

They spoke with great fondness about working with Sir David again, who shares their great love of fossils.

Mr Moore said: “Fossils are his love. Fossils are his absolute passion and he’s collected them since being a kid, from when he was at school in Leicester collecting in Charnwood Forest. It really was a project close to his heart.”

Bridport and Lyme Regis News:

Having been friends with Sir David for more than 20 years, Mr Moore said the presenter has always been interested in covering finds near the area.

 “A friend of a friend said to him, 'have you ever seen Chris Moore’s fossil collection?' I brought him down to see it and from that point on we became friends. He said to me ‘if you ever find a fossil that we could film from the start, from actually finding it in the cliff to digging it out, to the preparation, do let me know’.

“That happened sometime later, and he said I’ll phone the BBC. Within an hour they’d agreed to do the sea dragon programme. Now this project is sort of a follow up to that really as we were looking to find something just as exciting."

While the avid fossil hunters have worked with each other for decades, they describe this particular fossil as the biggest discovery they have ever faced.

Dr Etches said: “There’s nothing comparable to it today.

“It’s a big carnivorous reptile and one of the largest that ever lived in the sea. It’s even bigger than a T-Rex, these are larger and more ferocious.”

Despite the site's rich geological heritage, the regular tides, erratic currents, and rock falls from the shale cliff face makes extracting fossils a very dangerous undertaking.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News:

The team had only three weeks to excavate the skull before the storms of late summer would arrive. Suspended by ropes, 12 metres up in the cliff face, the team faced treacherous weather conditions while hammering away at the rock. One false move and the skull could have smashed.

Yet such a perilous undertaking was a “labour of love” for the pair with their passions stemming back to their childhoods.

Mr Moore, from Charmouth, said: “I’ve been collecting fossils since I was six-years-old. I had very indulgent parents who used to take me out and look at natural history and castles. When I learnt how old some of the things were that I was collecting that was it. I was hooked.”

Bridport and Lyme Regis News: 3D printed pliosaur teeth

After the skull was safely extracted, it was taken to Steve’s workshop nearby where restoration work began. It took several months to bring it back to life. This including moulding crowns for the skull from remains of the iconic trihedral shape pliosaur tooth which Mr Moore found in the cliff.

 “I collected one that drifted out of the jaw into the side of the jaw when we were digging it. From that all the missing ones were scanned and 3-D printed. We have got all the roots, and you can tell by the size of the root, the length of the teeth so then we had these crowns done and put back into the original part. For kids that come and visit, just to see those teeth would be like, wow!”

Mr Etches hopes that the find will attract more people to visit the museum and explore the local area. This level of intrigue is heighted by the fact that there’s so much mystery surrounding the Jurassic era.

 “You’re going back to a time period before man existed this is way back in tie the time, deep time that you can’t visualise no-one can.

“If you flew over the same topography of the land now you wouldn’t recognise any of it. The land wouldn’t be there. You wouldn’t recognise anything. In a hundred million years the Pyrenees could be warned down to foothills. That’s how that time period really is such a long time ago.”

Bridport and Lyme Regis News:

With the help of paleobiologists, visual effects sequences and digital scans, viewers will witness the peak of scientific research as they're given a detailed insight into the life of this pliosaur seeing how it looked, moved and hunted its prey. 

Attenborough and the Sea Monster will air at 8pm on New Year's Day on BBC One and iPlayer.