A recreation of Godzilla shark. Ray Troll, http://www.trollart.com/
A 300-million-year-old shark, dubbed "Godzilla shark," has been found in the Monzano Mountains east of Albuquerque, New Mexico, paleontologist John-Paul-Hodnett informed Discovery News.
Hodnett is an independent researcher with institutional ties to Northern Arizona University and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. He serendipitously came across the tip of the shark's nose, embedded in rock, while on a trip to the mountains. Its size, anatomy, age, and state of preservation make it a noteworthy discovery, in addition to the shark's resemblance to the fictional Godzilla.
Hodnett explained: "We are calling it Godzilla-shark for a number of physical features: 1) the dorsal fin spines on our shark are huge relative to the rest of the body, like those seen on the back of Godzilla, 2) Like Godzilla, it has broad, short and sharp teeth, rather than long needle-like teeth seen in other sharks of that same time period, 3) the body was largely covered by coarse dermal denticles, giving it almost a reptilian feel when you look at the fossil (like the skin of a gila monster), and 4) compared to the rest of the fish and other creatures found at the locality, its huge!"
He continued, "The average size fish (from the site) is just shy of being seven inches long. The largest shark fossil before the discovery of this new specimen was just shy of being a foot and a half long. Godzilla-shark was between seven to nine feet in length and would have terrorized the other relatively tiny critters of the locality."
Researchers at the Monzano Mountains site. John-Paul Hodnett
Godzilla Shark was exposed on its right side in a fine-grained limestone. Due to its size, the shark was removed in three sections to be preserved and re-assembled in the paleontology laboratory at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. The museum plans to feature the shark in a new Paleozoic Hall, once the hall is built and research on the shark is finalized.
Paleontologists working at the site. John-Paul Hodnett
To an untrained eye, the site just looks like a bunch of rocks and dirt. Hodnett and his team, however, could see evidence of ancient species. Godzilla Shark used to swim here, but not very quickly.
"Judging what we know of the pectoral and pelvic fins, this shark was probably not a long distance fast pursuit predator, like a short fin mako or blue shark, both of which tend to inhabit open deep water," Hodnett said. "Instead, it was probably more of a slower moving ambush predator, using quick burst of speed to capture fish and cruising close to the coast and in lagoons and river estuaries. You see that kind of behavior (in species) like sand tiger sharks and bull sharks."
He suspects that Godzilla Shark's large spines served multiple functions. They probably helped to cut through the water, improving swimming. The spines also might have deterred other sharks from messing around with Godzilla Shark.
"Lastly," he said, "the spines could of acted as a sexual display between other sharks to know if it is male or female from a distance. We do not know yet whether females had bigger spines than males yet."
Parts of the ancient shark were found embedded in the rock.John-Paul Hodnett
Hodnett and his team found 90 percent of the shark's fossils, which is remarkable for any fossil discovery, much less one that dates to 300 million years ago. The lack of claspers, a skeletal sexual organ on the pelvic fins of male sharks, means that Godzilla shark was a female.
As for the shark's teeth, Hodnett said they "seem to have evolved for a crunching grasp rather than a piercing grasp."
Paleongologists next to the Godzilla shark fossil, Monzano Mountains.Larry Rinehart/NMMNH
Imagine this site 300 million years ago. It was then a shallow, warm lagoonal estuary that was home to a wide variety of plants and animals, including Godzilla Shark. Dinosaurs hadn't even emerged on land yet.
Hodnett said, "At this time frame, there were not many large predators on land, with the exception of a few derived amphibian species. There were giant millipedes and other large insects that lived on the forest floor and canopy."
As a marine species, Godzilla Shark would have dined on other fare. Likely prey included primitive bony fish, smaller sharks, tiny amphibians, and large aquatic arthropods (such as insects, spiders and crustaceans) that occurred in the area.
Godzilla Shark was a ctenacanth, which hold a key place on the shark family tree.Ray Troll, http://www.trollart.com/
Hodnett explained that Godzilla Shark was a ctenacanth.
"Ctenacanths were a group of extinct sharks that have a long history in paleontology," he said. "They varied in shape is sizes during the upper Paleozoic, but we mostly known them until recently from isolated teeth, spines, and occasional partial skeletons."
They were on the planet for at least 130 million years, and they even might have lived for many million years beyond that, but researchers are still trying to learn more about them. Godzilla Shark, given its fantastic state of preservation, holds promise for unlocking secrets about this still-mysterious group of sharks.
Humans would have been a tidbit for the big Godzilla shark. Godzilla shark next to a 5'10" person, with fossil parts of the shark also shown.John-Paul Hodnett
Humans are a relatively new species, and never would have encountered Godzilla Shark in the flesh. That's probably a good thing, since a 5'10" human would have been a tidbit for 9-foot-long Godzilla Shark. Males of this species could have been even larger.
Hodnett and his colleagues are conducting a CT scan of the shark at the Presbyterian Rust Medical Center. They are hoping to find parts of the shark's body that are not visible on the surface of the fossils. With that information, they plan to create a 3D model of the shark to facilitate further research and to show off what this impressive shark looked like in the flesh. The 3D model will eventually go on display at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.