Australian paleontologists have made a remarkable fossil discovery in the state of Victoria, just 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the capital, reports CNET.
On a beach at Jan Juc, which lies on Australia’s legendary Ocean Road, scientists from Museums Victoria uncovered a large collection of fossilized teeth belonging to a prehistoric mega-shark called Carcharocles angustidens.
Colloquially known as the great jagged narrow-toothed shark, this predatory mammoth prowled the ancient seas 25 million years ago, during the Oligocene epoch, preying on penguins and small whales. These fantastic beasts could reach staggering lengths of 30 feet (9 meters), almost twice the size of the great white shark.
This whole scientific adventure started with fossil enthusiast Philip Mullaly, who went for a walk on the beach to search for fossils. The site is a veritable fossil hotspot, according to Phys.org, and it once again lived up to its reputation.
“I was walking along the beach looking for fossils, turned and saw this shining glint in a boulder and saw a quarter of the tooth exposed,” said Mullaly, who is an avid fossil finder and a school teacher.
The citizen scientist ended up pulling a 2.7-inch-long (7 centimeters) out of the boulder and took it to Museums Victoria for authentication.
“I was immediately excited, it was just perfect and I knew it was an important find that needed to be shared with people,” he explained.
Mullaly’s discovery was confirmed by senior curator of vertebrate paleontology Erich Fitzgerald, who determined that the newfound fossil belonged to a great jagged narrow-toothed shark.
Together with scientists and volunteers at the museum, Fitzgerald and Mullaly went back to the beach and excavated the site on two separate expeditions. Their efforts yielded an impressive fossil find of 40 teeth, unearthed in late 2017.
While most of the fossilized remains belong to Carcharocles angustidens and seem to have come from a single individual, the paleontologists also uncovered several smaller teeth left behind by sixgill sharks (Hexanchus), which still wander the oceans today.
This exciting discovery is extremely significant in multiple respects. First of all, this is the first time that fossilized teeth belonging to this mega-shark species have turned up in Australia. This makes the new find the very first evidence that Carcharocles angustidens once populated Australian waters, notes Cosmos Magazine.
Secondly, these rare fossils are among a handful of ancient shark teeth to have been found as a set. According to Fitzgerald, the vast majority of shark dental remains consist of single fossilized teeth.
“These teeth are of international significance, as they represent one of just three associated groupings of Carcharocles angustidens teeth in the world, and the very first set to ever be discovered in Australia,” he said.
As he explained, sharks have quickly regenerating teeth, which regularly replace older ones. This means that these large predators frequently lose old teeth, at rates of up to one a day. At the same time, ancient teeth are seldom preserved, because the cartilage in their make-up doesn’t fossilize easily.
This makes the newfound fossils all the more extraordinary, as multiple shark teeth coming from the same specimen are notoriously difficult to find.
In the video below, Fitzgerald comments on the importance of this discovery and the contribution that citizen scientists like Mullaly bring to paleontology.
Meanwhile, the sixgill shark teeth uncovered along with the Carcharocles angustidens fossils appear to belong to several individuals, which probably scavenged on the dead mega-shark and lost their teeth in the process.
“Sixgill sharks still exist off the Victorian coast today, where they live off the remains of whales and other animals,” says Tim Ziegler, a paleontologist at Museums Victoria. “This find suggests they have performed that lifestyle here for tens of millions of years.”