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Although it's difficult to imagine what life was like for dinosaurs when they roamed the earth, new discoveries occasionally help us get a glimpse of these extinct animals. Due to weather and erosion, the Jurassic Coast in southern England is a popular location for fossil discoveries. One of the most exciting discoveries made there recently was along this coast. After being taken from the cliffs and assembled, a massive skull from a gigantic sea monster revealed a pliosaur species that had never been discovered before.

Pliosaurs were deadly aquatic animals, but velociraptors and tyrannosaurus rexes were feared land predators. The new skull was found to be over 6 feet long, which raises questions about how large the rest of the beast's body might have been. Some species have been known to reach lengths of 39 feet. 

“It's one of the best fossils I've worked on. What makes it unique is it's complete,” says palaeontologist Steve Etches, founder of The Etches Collection in the UK. “The lower jaw and the upper skull are meshed together, as they would be in life. Worldwide, there are hardly any specimens ever found to that level of detail. And if they are, a lot of the bits are missing, whereas this, although it's slightly distorted—it's got every bone present.”

Thirty-one teeth remain affixed to the jaw, the back teeth ridged to facilitate chomping on its meal. The BBC compares the bite force of the pliosaur (33,000 newtons) to that of the tyrannosaurus rex (45,000 newtons) and the modern crocodile (16,000 newtons). The pliosaur was a formidable opponent, even though it lacked the strength of its terrestrial counterpart. This is especially true when considering modern predators. "The animal would have been so massive that I think it would have been able to prey on anything unfortunate enough to be in its space," says Bristol University's Dr Andre Rowe. 

Beyond its razor-sharp teeth, the pliosaur's other characteristics contribute to its exceptional hunting skills. The snout has multiple small pits thought to represent gland locations, which would have allowed the dinosaur to sense variations in water pressure. Additionally, the head has a hole for a third eye, a feature that many modern reptiles share.

Only the skull has currently been found in the rocky cliffs, but experts think the rest of the fossil may still be there somewhere along the Jurassic Coast. Over the coming years, the team expects to discover evidence of additional bones due to increasing erosion.

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