504572338

504572338

Mammoth Cave National ParkMammoth Cave National Park

Photo by: ZRF Photo

ZRF Photo

A 300 Million Year Old Shark Skull Was Discovered Inside Kentucky Cave

Paleontologists have now found and identified the fossilized remains of around 150 individual sharks from between 15 and 20 different species buried in the limestone layers of the cave.

February 14, 2020

Around 700 miles from the nearest beach is probably the last place you’d expect to find a giant shark, but that’s exactly what happened recently at Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park.

It’s not uncommon to find shark fossils in the Kentucky region but when cave scientists Rick Olson and Rick Toomey unearthed several shark teeth during a 3D mapping project, and what turned out to be a massive fossilized shark head, they knew they were on to something big. They sent photos to a colleague John-Paul Hodnett who is an expert in Paleozoic (542 to 241 million year old) sharks.

Hodnett went to the cave to see the specimens for himself. "I wasn't exactly sure what I was going to see in the cave during my trip in November,” Hodnett told Emma Austin of the Courier-Journal. “When we got to our target specimen my mind was blown.”

The biggest shark found so far is of the species Saivodus striatus which grew to around 30 feet, bigger than a Great White Shark. Saivodus striatus is a ctenacanth shark, distant cousins to modern sharks and pretty fearsome fish in their own right.

“All ctenacanths bare elongated dorsal spines, similar to those seen in living horn sharks and dogfish” Hodnett explained, the head that we found was from “one of the largest ctenacanths to evolve”. This armored shark was a mega predator and predates the megalodon by hundreds of millions of years. Despite this pedigree they likely had a different feeding strategy as their teeth were more adapted to grabbing than cutting through flesh.

The paleontologists have now found and identified the fossilized remains of around 150 individual sharks from between 15 and 20 different species buried in the limestone layers of the cave. This is exciting for a couple of reasons; sharks are cool, old mega sharks are even cooler, and we now know that this area of Kentucky used to be both underwater (as was much of North America) and home to a very healthy shark population.

"We literally just scratched the surface, and the sharks are just coming out from that scratch," Hodnett CNN. "So, hopefully, with more field work, we'll get another good batch of specimens to kind of help get at least some more rich diversity."

Luke Tipple

Luke Tipple is a trained marine biologist and the host of Discovery Channel’s Nature Minute. Luke has hosted two major network survival game shows, multiple Shark Week documentaries on Discovery, as well as producing and hosting series for Travel channel and Snapchat.

Next Up

What Caused the Death of Great White Found With Sea Turtle Stuck In Mouth?

Shark scientist Dr. Neil Hammerschlag debunks news of Great White dying from choking on a sea turtle.

What Happens When a Great White Can’t Breach?

Fun fact on great whites who never get airborne.

New Pocket Shark Discovery

A new Pocket Shark has been discovered and it's insanely cute! Here's what you need to know...

Swimming with Sharks

One research foundation is working to change public perception of sharks by taking people swimming with them – without a cage.

Shark Flings Itself Out of Water to Avoid Becoming Orca’s Snack

A sevengill shark flings itself out of the water and onto rocks to avoid becoming an orca's meal.

Twin Red Panda Cubs Born at Chester Zoo

In June, twin red pandas were born at England’s Chester Zoo as part of its endangered species breeding program, and they are as adorable as ever! After nine weeks in their nest boxes, these cubs passed their health checkup, which is great news in the animal world as there are less than 10,000 in the wild.

A Guide to Sharks at the American Museum of Natural History

Here’s a handy guide to some of the shark species you can spot in the American Museum of Natural History’s special exhibitions.

Shark Week 2019 Announced: A Summer Event of Bigger Sharks and Bigger Bites Starting July 28

Over 20 hours of shark programming will be aired on Discovery and Discovery GO.

New Episodes of Shark Week on Snapchat!

SHARK WEEK on Snapchat returns July 28, July 30, and August 1.
Related To: