Earlier this year David Attenborough took to TV in a major BBC documentary to introduce the world to the Sea Dragon, a newly discovered ichthyosaur, found on the Dorset coast.
Although it was dubbed a ‘Sea Dragon’, it’s actually nothing of the sort. The term ‘Sea Dragon’ refers to two long-extinct types of reptiles’ ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, a pair of creatures which first came to the attention of the scientific world of the 19th century, described and named in 1821.
Indeed, the name ’Dragon’ was nothing more than marketing hype, dreamt up by early enthusiasts like early collector Thomas Hawkins hundreds of years ago to help popularise these dramatic and incredible animals in the public eye. They’re not even swimming dinosaurs, either!
Although they were around at the same time, from the early Triassic to late Cretaceous periods, they can’t be considered dinosaurs, but reptiles instead.
So, what were they? Put simply they were massive swimming mammals, potentially up to 21m in length, depending on the species. Whilst the earliest members of the Sea Dragon family were eel-like in their build, later Sea Dragons more closely resembled dolphins with a short neck and a long snout.
These reptiles grew to look like fish but shared no common ancestors with the fish they shared the early waters with, a stunning example of convergent evolution where animals develop similar adaptations despite being unrelated.
The documentary centred around the 2016 discovery of an ichthyosaur discovery in Dorset by a collector called Chris Moore, telling the story of how it lived, what it would have looked like and attempted to solve the mystery of how it died. As a 200m year old specimen in perfect condition bar a missing head, the mystery was seriously compelling.
But how does it link to Lyme Bay? Because it was found there, along the Jurassic Coast.
Dorset’s Jurassic coast is a 96-mile patch of gorgeous rocky cliffs, beaches and picnic spots, but it’s also a World Heritage Site which, in its fossil deposits, tells a story of 185 million years of geological history.
During the Jurassic period the sea level rose, transforming what was a desert landscape into a shallow tropical sea, rich in marine life. It was in this environment that Sea Dragons flourishes and as they died, their remains settled in the sea bed, where they’re still being discovered today!
Our Lyme Regis holiday cottages are the perfect base from which to explore the amazing scenery and history of the Jurassic coast. From splendid walks to world class museums and restaurants, there’s so much to explore and do in Lyme Regis. Who knows, you might even make a scientific discover of your own – they’re all there, just waiting to be found.