David Attenborough’s Sea Dragon – and the science behind a tantalising prehistoric ‘murder mystery’

by Luke Higgins

Sea Dragon, you ask? It sounds as if David Attenborough has decided to change things up a bit and enter the world of Game of Thrones. But, not quite. Attenborough and the Sea Dragon – to be screened on January 7 – is a new, one-off BBC documentary presented by Sir David Attenborough, which tells the story of a newly discovered ichthyosaur from the Dorset coast, England.

The word “Sea Dragon” refers to two extinct types of reptiles, ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. They were first brought to the attention of the scientific world in the early 19th century, and described and named in 1821.

The scientists were well aware that these were not actual dragons, of course, but some people (notably the early collector, Thomas Hawkins), thought the word “dragon” would help to popularise these incredible animals. Their discovery even predates the formal recognition of the word dinosaur, in 1842.

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