Scientists report trove of shark fossils in Mammoth Cave

James Marshall
February 2, 2020

The shark fossil, which was discovered by scientists who were investigating the cave system, is thought to be up to about 330 million years old, according to John-Paul Hodnett, a paleontologist and program coordinator at Dinosaur Park in Maryland.

Hodnett eventually visited the park to examine the fossils, and while he did not uncover a full skeleton, he found parts of a head that belonged to a prehistoric shark, which he said was the size of a modern great white shark. "But already it's showing that Mammoth Cave has a rich fossil shark record". "So this is a brand new record of sharks from a particular layer of time".

Paleontologists working at the national park uncovered fossils from around 150 sharks representing as many as 20 distinct species, reports CNN.

After finding the fossils, photos were sent to an expert on Paleozoic sharks for analyzing the data.

"What we saw in the cave was fantastic because just from the shape of the jaw we'll be able to find out more about how this species lived and we'll be able to fit it in the shark family tree more accurately", Hodnett said. So Rick Olson and Rick Toomey, the Mammoth Cave scientists, were the ones that have found and seen the shark fossils. That said, Saivodus fossils from Europe suggest they got as big as 8.5 to 9 meters (28 to 30 feet) long, according to Hodnett. The sharks lived about 330 million years ago in what is known as the late Mississippian geological time period, when much of North America was covered by oceans. However, these earliest sharks may not have looked very much like the famous, toothy "Jaws"-like animals we all picture when we think of sharks". Hodnett said he's still in the planning stages of trying to figure out how to fully document the new fossil. Hodnett said they had to crawl on hands and knees for about a quarter of a mile to reach their prize.

"Due to the delicate nature of the cave environment, and the logistics of navigating equipment in the narrow passages of the cave, it may not be ideal to remove large chunks of limestone to extract the fossils", he told Gizmodo.

John-Paul Hodnett determined the shark belonged to a species called "Saivodus striatus", a species that lived more than 300 million years ago. In that period, North America wasn't existing as we know it now, but covered by water from the oceans. Being that the national park is home to the longest known cave system on Earth, at over 400 miles, Hodnett believes that the team has "just scratched the surface".

The researchers plan to present their preliminary findings in October at a meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Eventually, he said, they'll display the fossils in the park and online.

Based on what was exposed in the cave wall, Hodnett identified a lower jaw of an ancient shark.

Hodnett said he is still studying the fossil monsters he has collected from the cave, but he has already learned a lot.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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