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Fossils on an Australian Seashore Reveal a Shark-Eat-Shark World


An beginner fossil hunter at first discovered a single shark tooth. It led to indicators of a prehistoric shark feast.

Two views of a fossilized tooth belonging to Carcharocles angustidens, a prehistoric shark that possible measured greater than 30 toes lengthy.Credit scoreMuseums Victoria
Nicholas St. Fleur

In 2015 Philip Mullaly was strolling alongside a seashore in Victoria, Australia, when he noticed what appeared like a shining serrated blade caught in a boulder. Utilizing his automotive keys, Mr. Mullaly fastidiously pried from the rock a shark tooth in regards to the dimension of his palm. He didn’t understand it on the time, however the tooth he uncovered as soon as belonged within the mouth of a 25-million-year-old large shark that was twice the dimensions of an ideal white.

“It was an awesome creature, it would have been terrifying to come across,” Mr. Mullaly stated.

Although Mr. Mullaly, who’s a schoolteacher and beginner fossil hunter, has collected greater than 100 fossils, he by no means earlier than discovered a prehistoric shark tooth. He returned to the boulder a number of weeks later and to his shock dug up a number of extra three-inch tooth.

“It dawned on me when I found the second, third and fourth tooth that this was a really big deal,” stated Mr. Mullaly.

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He contacted Erich Fitzgerald, a paleontologist on the Museums Victoria in Melbourne, which introduced the discover on Thursday. Dr. Fitzgerald recognized the tooth as belonging to a sort of mega-toothed shark known as the nice jagged slender toothed-shark, or Carcharocles angustidens.

“Angustidens was a bloody big shark, we’re talking more than 30 feet long,” stated Dr. Fitzgerald.

An artist’s rendering of the large shark, which was twice the dimensions of an ideal white.Credit scorePeter Trusler

Dr. Fitzgerald additionally decided that the entire tooth probably got here from the identical particular person shark. Although people have discovered single shark tooth belonging to the mega-toothed shark earlier than, Mr. Mullaly’s discover was the primary time a set had been found in Australia, and solely the third time a set of tooth belonging to the identical particular person Carcharocles angustidens had been discovered on this planet.

“I said to him, ‘You realize how important and rare these are?’” Dr. Fitzgerald stated. “‘There could be more there. We need to go back down there and dig.’”

So with a staff of paleontologists, Dr. Fitzgerald and Mr. Mullaly returned to the seashore final 12 months, which was south of Melbourne. When the tide was low sufficient, the staff uncovered greater than 40 shark tooth from the boulder and a part of the large shark’s vertebrae. Dr. Fitzgerald stated that every Carcharocles angustidens tooth they discovered got here from a special spot within the shark’s jaw, which meant that the entire tooth probably got here from the identical particular person mega-shark.

“The teeth were finely serrated and sharper than a steak knife,” stated Dr. Fitzgerald. “They are still sharp, even 25 million years later.”

Mr. Mullaly donated the tooth to the Melbourne Museum, the place they’re on show till Oct. 7.

Dr. Erich Fitzgerald of the Museums Victoria in Melbourne, close to the place the C. angustidens fossils have been discovered.Credit scoreMuseums Victoria

Among the many treasure trove of mega-shark tooth, the staff additionally discovered prehistoric tooth belonging to a sixgill shark, which is a bottom-feeding scavenger that swims off the coasts of Australia at this time. Though the staff discovered proof that there was just one mega-shark there, they discovered indications that there have been a number of completely different sixgill sharks on the scene. The findings paint a grotesque image of what the paleontologists suppose occurred at this spot.

Although it was the fiercest predator within the sea throughout its time, this colossal shark should have died and sunk to the seabed. There, a faculty of sixgill sharks, every with saw-like tooth, sliced its rotting flesh aside and feasted upon its carcass.

“It’s shark eating shark,” Dr. Fitzgerald stated.

Nicholas St. Fleur is a science reporter who writes about archaeology, paleontology, house and different matters. He joined The Times in 2015. Earlier than that, he was an assistant editor at The Atlantic. @scifleur Fb

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Updated: August 10, 2018 — 10:44 am

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