Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#SteveReviews: Attenborough and the Giant Sea Monster

A new year, a new beginning. This year was no different but it did come with a nice little treat courtesy of the BBC. They blessed us with a new special featuring the incomparable Sir David Attenborough, a man that needs no introduction. For a 97-year old, it was great to see Attenborough getting excited to release his inner schoolboy and fossil hunter, as he shadowed The Etches Collection, as they helped to remove and house a large pliosaur from a cliff along the Jurassic Coast. From the get go, Attenborough and the Giant Sea Monster is a mesmerising documentary that plunges viewers into the mysterious depths of the ocean, and the lives of these prehistoric reptiles. This documentary offers a thrilling journey into the realm of these marine giants, although doesn’t go into the specifics of the discovery and whether it is a new species or not (although it probably is), as the peer-review process takes time.

Discovered by Philip Jacobs while taking a walk along the cliff face following a strong storm, he found the tip of the snout of the pliosaur, alerting Steve Etches of his potential discovery. It is upsetting that Jacobs isn’t given more recognition for his work throughout, as without him, this important fossil may have never have been found. Palaeontologist Dr Judyth Sassoon (who recently spoke at TetZooCon 2023) visit the fossil along with Attenborough to comment on the likelihood of this specimen representing a new species (based on its size), mentioning that it will likely add to the eight already known. Now, this confused me. I know for a fact that more pliosaur species are known that eight globally, but it isn’t made clear whether Dr Sassoon means from this location during the same time frame as the fossil is from or not, which is how I interpreted things. If I am incorrect, please do let me know.

Also appearing within was Flip, who also stunned the crowd a TetZooCon 2023 – however this was at the same time as my talk on midwife toads so I never managed to see Luke Muscutt give his demonstration at the time (which you can watch here), so it was great to see Flip get some screentime during this documentary. Another familiar face was Neil Gostling from the University of Southampton giving us a demonstration of the techniques used to visualise fossils via various scanning techniques. I do love it when we get a nice touch of science within these kinds of documentaries. To me, I enjoy these specieals where Attenborough can reveal his inner child, while also interacting with passionate and well informed people. The most nail-biting moments were in relation to the removal of the skull from the cliff, that needed a custom sledge to collect it from the rock, before it was eroded into the ocean whence it came. It is a shame the programme was so short, but it is highly enjoyable and extremely informative.

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