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David Attenborough on fossil searching and unearthing discover of a lifetime – Nationwide


Feb 13, 2024
David Attenborough on fossil searching and unearthing discover of a lifetime – Nationwide

Attenborough and the Jurassic Sea Monster sounds just like the title of a science-fiction film, and it’s not that removed from actuality when you think about the subject material.

Starring iconic broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough, the one-hour documentary particular (airing Wed., Feb. 14 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on BBC Earth and Prime Video in Canada) investigates the invention of a lifetime: the cranium of an enormous sea monster.

The cranium belongs to a pliosaur, an infinite prehistoric marine reptile that dominated the seas whereas dinosaurs reigned on land, roughly 150 million years in the past.

Becoming a member of Attenborough — now 97 years outdated — on the dig are two of England’s most intrepid fossil hunters, who excavate the cranium from its resting place on the cliff face of Dorset in southern England. Attenborough’s been an avid fossil collector since he was a younger boy, however that is the primary time he has come throughout a discover fairly like this one.

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David Attenborough holding a 3D printed mannequin of the pliosaur snout fossil at Southampton College, Southampton U.Ok.

BBC Studios

World Information had a short dialogue with Attenborough and govt producer Mike Gunton, who spoke in regards to the film, the difficulties and joys of fossil searching and the unprecedented nature of this immense discovery.

World Information: What is that this film about?
David Attenborough: This film is in regards to the discovery of the cranium of a unprecedented monster of the seas — one of many greatest predators the world has ever seen. The cranium is an important a part of an animal, and what you’ll be able to deduce from the cranium is completely fascinating. Think about that you just had been from Mars, and once you landed on Earth all you might discover had been human skeletons however not a single one with a cranium. You wouldn’t know something about it in any respect — you wouldn’t know what it ate up, the way it might transfer, you wouldn’t know what it might see — it might be ineffective.

Properly, that’s roughly the scenario we had been in. The cranium had the potential to be essentially the most informative discover of any pliosaur ever made however sadly, or initially sadly, it was solely the top tip of this big cranium that was discovered. That is the story of the way it was [extracted], and the way it was examined by scientists, how they had been capable of interpret it and inform us new issues about pliosaurs.

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For individuals who might not be aware of the thought of a pliosaur, are you able to say what it’s and the way a lot we learn about it?
Properly, we all know so much about ichthyosaurs, however this was an amazing hunter of the ichthyosaurs, and it’s known as a pliosaur — an immense animal that dominated the seas throughout the interval of the dinosaurs. It might clearly transfer at nice pace and the enamel that had been discovered within the tip of the cranium have vertical ridges down them, which break the suction and permit it to withdraw the jaw from prey rapidly. That’s the type of deduction that we’re capable of make and which we present in this system.

Do you keep in mind the way you first heard about this?
Sure, I’ve been enthusiastic about gathering fossils since I used to be a child and I’ve by no means given it up. In consequence, I do know a variety of the collectors and individuals who stay on the Jurassic Coast. Considered one of them, Chris Moore, a long-time good friend, acquired in contact with us and stated there’s going to be a exceptional discovery, that this factor had been discovered.

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It appeared as if it was going to be some of the full skeletons ever discovered. The pinnacle was solely a part of it, and that was up within the cliffs. And the physique itself, being in regards to the measurement of a London bus, extends into the cliff. The choice needed to be taken that we might go for the cranium. The remainder of it in all probability must be there nevertheless it’s 30, 40 toes lengthy, so in the mean time we’re concentrating on the pinnacle, the cranium, an important half.

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David Attenborough onboard a ship whereas filming close to White Nothe cliffs, on the Jurassic Coast, Dorset, U.Ok.

BBC Studios/Rob Hollingworth

Mike Gunton: You’re completely proper in regards to the pace, as a result of we heard they’re going to need to excavate this factor within the subsequent week. So we needed to scramble, we needed to get it commissioned, we needed to get all people’s involvement, we needed to get the crew collectively, to not point out the actually troublesome circumstances which required well being and security. However however, inside six days we had been there!

How a lot of a problem was it to excavate the cranium?
Properly, it weighs over half a ton. That’s a fairly heavy factor to deal with. Now, you must get it out from midway up the face of a tall cliff which itself is crumbling away, and for those who drop it and break it, it’s a significant disaster. You’ll have misplaced quite a lot of info. So the issue we see within the first a part of the movie is: how on Earth do you go round getting this out?

They solely had a sure size of time as a result of the storms of summer season had been on the best way and fortuitously at the moment the climate was sunny sufficient for the staff to begin working instantly. However they knew that in two or three weeks’ time there was going to be a rainstorm and that might have ruined every thing, in order that they had been working in opposition to the clock and it was that drama of truly getting it out, the sheer mechanical drama of extracting this factor. You are feeling the strain because the individuals are making an attempt to get it out, and do it safely.

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What had been your first impressions of the entire cranium once you noticed it for the primary time?
Oh, no query about that. That is likely one of the greatest skulls you’ve ever seen. I imply, it’s big and so though I used to be conscious of the tip that was first found, I hadn’t absolutely appreciated how huge the entire head could be and it’s monumental. So sheer scale was what first impressed me.

Then I talked to the scientists who knew about this explicit group of fossils, and identified to me the little particulars, the little pores, sensory pits. There may be additionally the parietal eye — in some animals, together with this one, it appears there’s a primitive eye within the prime of the pinnacle.

Consider a crocodile, within the center, between the eyes on the prime. It might have informed you which ones method was up, for those who had been down within the deep sea; that’s the type of element which we weren’t certain about however which this cranium has already given us extra details about.

Mike Gunton: One of many scientists, Andre [Rowe], stated it’s a one in 1,000,000 … no! … one in a billion fossil.

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How carefully did the staff collaborate with the scientific neighborhood and specialists throughout the making of this film?
They’ll inform us every kind of issues. There’s an American skilled, Dr. Andre, and he was blown away by it. He stated, “It was essentially the most terrifying animal within the seas.”

I requested him maybe a moderately infantile query as a result of it was very huge, and it’s larger than the Tyrannosaurus rex by a great distance, so I requested this schoolboy query, I stated, “Now, supposing Tyrannosaurus rex met this extraordinary pliosaur, who would win?”

And this chap was American and Tyrannosaurus Rex is an American dinosaur, so I anticipated his reply to be that. He stated, “Properly, I believe it in all probability was this pliosaur that gained.”

Different scientists informed us that it’s nearly actually a brand new species of pliosaur. So it’s a brand new species, and it might have been capable of take care of Tyrannosaurus rex straight up in a battle. So what extra would you like?

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What made the pliosaur an apex predator?
The information are dramatic sufficient that you just don’t have to construct up photos with phrases. … Here’s a factor the dimensions of a London bus, shifting sooner than something you’ll be able to think about of that measurement, with big jaws, armed with these extraordinary enamel, which was capable of tear aside the ichthyosaurs — there’s no creature alive as we speak in any method akin to this monumental carnivorous big.

That’s what units your creativeness alight when you consider it. And naturally, the scientists themselves are as thrilled about it, maybe much more than you may be. It’s a dream of a lifetime.

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This immense creature [also] moved its limbs in the identical type of method {that a} penguin does.

The pliosaur has one set of flippers on the entrance and one set on the again, and the scientist identified that it’s like geese after they fly, and different birds that migrate in flocks — they fly one behind the opposite to allow them to exploit the turbulence and save vitality. That is what the pliosaur does by having two flippers one behind the opposite.

What’s it about discovering a fossil that holds such fascination for you?
A really primary curiosity but in addition a way of privilege. You may inform in lots of circumstances as a result of truly, there’s a little brown line on a rock that leads you to consider there’s something in there. And you may calculate had been you need to hit it with a view to get it to separate!

Sometimes, and it’s occurred to me, often you will notice in full element that the rock has cut up alongside the junction between a shell and the mud, and it simply opens, and there it’s, completely excellent. It doesn’t require any additional excavation, it doesn’t require messing.

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There’s this excellent creature that no person has seen earlier than you in 150 million years. In case you’re younger or outdated, it’s a pleasure! I’ve by no means gotten over it, actually. It’s very romantic. I imply, folks speak about science, the chilly, calculating eye of science, which after all you must have, nevertheless it doesn’t forestall you from having romance as nicely.

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Why is it vital we research extinct animals, and what can we be taught from them?
Information can’t have a money worth. Information don’t have money values. It’s simply a part of life. To know your creativeness of the completely different worlds that when existed, it’s enriching and makes you extra appreciative of the truth that you’re alive. The proof goes again for all these thousands and thousands of years and that’s a part of the which means of life, actually.

[This interview has been edited and condensed.]

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‘Attenborough and the Jurassic Sea Monster’ airs Wed., Feb. 14 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on BBC Earth in Canada. BBC Earth can be out there on Prime Video in Canada, with ‘Attenborough and the Jurassic Sea Monster’ airing concurrently from Feb. 14 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

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