King of the (Sea) Monsters

By: Vicky Vásquez

This story begins like any good Godzilla flick: the unsuspecting scientist, perfectly specialized for their twist of fate, does something mundane. Then ‘BOOM!’ the monster appears--in this case the Godzilla shark.

April 26, 2021

For paleontologist John-Paul Hodnett, a specialist in prehistoric sharks, he and colleagues were exploring an ancient, brackish (a mix of salt and fresh water) lagoon near the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science (NMMNHS). As they were leaving, Hodnett stumbled upon the ‘BOOM!’, which honestly was more like a ‘tap-tap’ as Hodnett’s pocketknife hit something. In a real Godzilla movie, this discovery would send everyone running for the next 90 minutes. But with Godzilla shark, Hodnett and a team of paleontologists carefully excavated for the next seven years.

Photo by: New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science

New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science

To understand how the now scientifically named Dracopristis hoffmanorum earned its Godzilla shark nickname, Chris Mowry, creative manager at Toho International (the creators of Godzilla) weighs in. “Since the character's creation in 1954, Godzilla has become synonymous with things that are extremely large and often terrifying.” At 6.7 ft in length, the Godzilla shark appears to be the largest predatory fish discovered in the ancient lagoon. With large jaws bearing 14 rows of teeth and fortified by dorsal spines, including one more than a quarter of its own body length, the Godzilla shark was no doubt terrifying to the prey in its habitat. Mowry goes on to say that, “Godzilla's origins [are] as an ocean-dwelling dinosaur” and fittingly, the Godzilla shark existed around 252 million years ago.

Photo by: New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science

New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science

Incredibly, the Godzilla shark — an adult female — is the most complete fossil ever found in North America for ctenacanth (tee-na-can-th) sharks. With impressions of the soft tissue visible, this is a pretty big deal, since cartilaginous skeletons do not preserve well. Most commonly, only the calcified teeth of prehistoric sharks remain. The fossil of Godzilla shark revealed it as perfectly adapted to shallow, brackish estuaries (like a lagoon). Moving slowly at first, the Godzilla shark was capable of quick maneuvers, making it the perfect ambush predator. Looking at extant shark species, it can be compared to bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) or the common sawfish (Pristis pristis), both of which reside in coastal estuaries.

Photo by: New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science

New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science

Mowry concludes his thoughts on the Godzilla shark by saying, “The nickname given to it just goes to show that Godzilla is one of the most beloved pop culture characters of all time.” And just like any good Godzilla movie, this story leaves your imagination primed for a sequel! That’s because shark spines, like those found on the Godzilla shark, are for protection, not predation. During the excavation of Godzilla shark, paleontologists also found evidence of a visitor to the lagoon, the known species Glikmanius occidentalis, a 9 - 14 foot-long prehistoric shark.

For more about sharks, stream your favorite SHARK WEEK shows on discovery+. Download and subscribe now!

Next Up

The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act Passed the US Senate

On World Ocean’s Day 2021, CHOW (Capitol Hill Ocean Week) took a CHOMP out of the threats that sharks are still enduring. The CHOW bite came in the form of the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (SFSEA- S. 1106), which recently passed the senate and is now returning to the House for approval.

The Great Easter (Shark) Egg Hunt

In the United States, we know that every April brings a giant bunny hiding an array of colorful eggs that vary in size, color and texture. But did you know the ocean’s got its own version?!

Are Shark Attacks on the Rise? Not Really.

Maine had its first recorded deadly shark attack this week. We talk to experts about what is going on in the ocean and share some tips if you find yourselves in close contact with a shark.

There’s a Lot You Don’t Know About Sharks

SHARK WEEK starts August 9th, only on Discovery. But in the meantime, here are some fin-tastic facts you probably didn’t know about sharks.

New Study Reveals True Size of Megalodon

Scientists know great white sharks are living descendants of megalodon sharks, but what we didn’t know was the true scale of the prehistoric animal. That is, until now.

COVID-19 Vaccine Development Threatens Shark Populations

Conservationists warn that half a million sharks could be killed and harvested to develop the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines. But what do sharks have to do with vaccines? One word: squalene.

Bob the Shark Takes Over Shark Week’s Amazon Alexa & Google Home Voice Skill

It’s not summer without Shark Week and it’s not Shark Week without Bob the Shark! Now you can talk to him about all things Shark Week on your Google Home or Amazon Alexa devices.

Swimming with Sharks

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

Deep-Sea Divers: Tiger Sharks of The Bahamas

Cutting-edge technology takes a team of scientists at Beneath the Waves (BTW) deeper than they’ve ever gone before by shedding new light on how tiger sharks use our deep seas. Don't miss TIGER SHARK KING, Friday, August 14 at 10P ET on Discovery.

The SHARK WEEK Blimp is Coming to a City Near You

It's a plane, it's a bird, it's a... Shark? Starting June 24, keep your eyes on the sky for... a flying shark! The first-ever SHARK WEEK Blimp will be flying along the East coast to get fans excited for the best thing about summer.Track the SHARK WEEK Blimp's whereabouts here and share photos of your sightings on social using #SharkWeek.And get ready, Shark Week starts on July 11 on Discovery and discovery+.

Related To: