Paleontologists Find Extraordinary 25-Million-Year-Old Teeth Of Mega-Shark in Australia

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Fossil enthusiast Philip Mullaly holds a tooth from an extinct great jagged narrow-toothed shark at the Melbourne Museum on Thursday. | AFP-JIJI

Citizen scientist Philip Mullaly and professional paleontologists have found a very rare set of fossilized shark teeth at Jan Juc, a renowned fossil site along Victoria’s Surf Coast.

“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,” Mullaly explained.

“I was immediately excited, it was just perfect and I knew it was an important find that needed to be shared with people.”

The teeth belonged to Carcharocles angustidens, an extinct species that’s closely related to the famous giant C. megalodon.

Carcharocles angustidens lived between 22 and 33 million years ago (Oligocene epoch). This shark grew up to 30 feet (9 m) in length, was the top predator and would have preyed on small whales.

“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,” said Dr. Erich Fitzgerald, senior curator of vertebrate paleontology at Museums Victoria.

Carcharocles angustidens teeth. Image credit: Museums Victoria.

Realizing the fossilized shark teeth was all from the same species, Dr. Fitzgerald and colleagues suspected that they came from one individual shark and there might be more teeth at Jan Juc. So, they organized two expeditions to excavate the site, where they were able to collect more than 40 shark teeth.

Most of the teeth belonged to Carcharocles angustidens, but in addition, they found something even more surprising — several teeth of a smaller shark, the sixgill shark (genus Hexanchus).

“These smaller teeth came from several different individuals and would have become dislodged from their jaws as they fed on the huge carcass of Carcharocles angustidens,” said Museums Victoria paleontologist Tim Ziegler.

“The teeth of the sixgill shark work like a crosscut saw, and tore into Carcharocles angustidens like loggers felling a tree. The stench of blood and decaying flesh would have drawn scavengers from far around.”

Carcharocles angustidens being feasted upon by several sixgill sharks. Image credit: Museums Victoria.

“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.”