SURF COAST, AUSTRALIA — Amateur fossil fanatic Phil Mullaly knew he had discovered one thing particular when he noticed one thing glimmering in a boulder.
Mullaly was strolling alongside Jan Juc, a famend fossil web site alongside Victoria’s Surf Coast in south Australia, when he noticed uncovered shark tooth within the rock.
“I was immediately excited, it was just perfect,” Mullaly stated.
That was only one of a number of teeth Mullaly discovered that day in 2015. Three years later, scientists have confirmed his hunch, saying Thursday that the teeth are all about 25 million years outdated and belonged to an extinct species of mega-toothed shark — the Great Jagged Narrow-Toothed Shark (Carcharocles angustidens).
The historical shark was believed to develop as much as about 9 meters (30 toes) lengthy, double the dimensions of a terrific white shark. The teeth found on the seaside had been round 7 cm (2.75 inches) in size.
Mullaly’s is one of the rarest finds within the historical past of paleontology, in accordance with Erich Fitzgerald, a palaeontologist at Museums Victoria who led a crew to excavate the location the place the preliminary fossils had been discovered.
“If you think about how long we’ve been looking for fossils around the world as a civilization — which is maybe 200 years — in (that time) we have found just three (sets of) fossils of this kind on the entire planet, and this most recent find from Australia is one of those three,” Fitzgerald advised CNN.
‘My jaw sort of dropped’
Fitzgerald stated he was first contacted by Mullaly final yr a few completely different discovery, throughout which he briefly talked about the discover at Jan Juc, nevertheless it wasn’t till the newbie fossil hunter introduced the teeth into the museum that Fitzgerald realized how vital the invention was.
Sharks have the power to regrow teeth, and may lose as much as a tooth a day. That cartilage doesn’t simply decompose, which is why particular person shark tooth fossils are considerably widespread. However, Fitzgerald stated that discovering a number of teeth from a single shark is extraordinarily rare.
“That doesn’t happen. That just doesn’t happen. That’s only happened once before in Australia, and that was a totally different species of shark,” he stated.
When Mullaly advised him the boulder he discovered was nonetheless on the seaside, Fitzgerald stated “my jaw sort of dropped.”
Fitzgerald organized a crew to get all the way down to the south Australia coast. They selected to conduct the excavation in December 2017, when the tides had been low. Within 20 minutes of looking, Fitzgerald’s crew began to seek out teeth.
In the top, they extracted greater than 40 completely different specimens. Fitzgerald attributes the finds to dogged work and a bit of luck.
“Paleontology is one of the last branches of science where serendipity, where chance events, timing, coincidence plays a most vital role,” he stated.
“On that particular day at that particular time, Phil Mullaly was the right man for the job on that beach on the southern coast of Australia.”
Sharks consuming sharks
The teeth Fitzgerald’s crew discovered didn’t simply belong to the Great Jagged Narrow-Toothed Shark. They additionally discovered teeth belonging to a number of completely different Sixgill sharks (Hexanchus), Museums Victoria said, a species that also roams Australia’s coastal waters.
Researchers imagine these teeth had been left behind because of this of getting lodged within the carcass of the Great Jagged Narrow-Toothed Shark as smaller sharks consumed it after the a lot bigger animal died.
“The teeth of the sixgill shark work like a crosscut saw, and tore into the Carcharocles angustidens like loggers felling a tree. The stench of blood and decaying flesh would have drawn scavengers from far around,” Museums Victoria palaeontologist Tim Ziegler stated in an announcement.
“Sixgill sharks still live off the Victorian coast today, where they live off the remains of whales and other animals. This find suggests they have performed that lifestyle here for tens of millions of years.”
Fitzgerald’s crew has completed their subject analysis and at the moment are working to be taught extra about how the teeth of the Great Jagged Narrow-Toothed shark developed with a view to higher perceive its evolutionary historical past.
“If we can find out any more clues about the lifestyle (and) the ecology of this extinct species, that might shed light as to what led to its extinction,” he stated.
Fitzgerald stated he believes there could also be much more shark teeth at Jan Juc and even components of a spinal column lodged within the cliff, based mostly on what he noticed throughout the excavation. For now, these potential samples are about 20 meters (65 toes) excessive, out of the attain of excavators.
“I’m willing to bet there’s more up there,” he stated. “We’ll be waiting and ready for the next expedition down to salvage a giant prehistoric shark.”