Sharks vs. Dinosaurs: Deadly Encounters

Sharks and dinos both thrived in the same periods. Did they ever square off against each other? Recent evidence suggests the answer is 'Yes.'

Sharks and dinosaurs were both prevalent during the same periods, but did they ever encounter each other? Recent evidence suggests that they likely did. Here are the most probable shark encounters with dinosaurs.

Squalicorax, a 16.5-foot-long shark, feasted on a duck-billed dinosaur during the Cretaceous. Remains of the two, documented in the journal Palaios, consisted of a chewed-up hadrosaur foot with a shark tooth embedded in it. Paleontologists are not sure if the shark scavenged on an already-dead dinosaur, which might have keeled over on land before winding up in the water, or if the coastal predator shark killed the dinosaur outright.

The mega carnivore dinosaur Spinosaurus, with its crocodile-like snout, is thought to have craved both surf and turf. A tooth from this Cretaceous predator was found embedded in a pterosaur. Some pterosaurs lingered around water sources, similar to today's shore birds. If Spinosaurus nabbed a pterosaur and was built for fish eating, it probably could have taken on a shark.

Baryonyx, like Spinosaurus, had a crocodile-like head. It also had huge claws built for lifting marine life, including reachable sharks, out of the water. Its tummy provides telltale evidence of fish feasting, remembering that sharks are fish too. Emily Rayfield of the University of Bristol, who studied the dinosaur, said, "On excavation, partially digested fish scales and teeth and a dinosaur bone were found in the stomach region of the animal, demonstrating that at least some of the time this dinosaur ate fish."

Sawsharks are technically rays, but they are very closely related to sharks and look like them. David Ward of The Natural History Museum in London told Discovery News, "Sharks could have predated dinosaur carcasses, and dinosaurs might have eaten sawsharks when they were in shallow fresh water rivers and estuaries."

New evidence reveals that some dinosaurs, possibly early tyrannosaurs, could paddle long distances. Scott Persons of the University of Alberta determined that big claw marks left on a prehistoric China river bottom belonged to a Cretaceous dinosaur. Sharks can frequent rivers. Chinese high fin banded sharks are native to today's Yangtze River, for example. If an early tyrannosaur did encounter a shark, it's unclear which animal would have been the victor in that battle.

Suchomimus, aka "Crocodile Mimic," got its name from paleontologist Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago and his team. The researchers noted that its jaws were adapted for hunting fish, which could have included sharks that dared to swim close to shore. Unlike some other fishing dinosaurs, the body of Suchomimus was not very adapted to swimming, so it probably waded or fished from land.

At least one species from the genus Carcharias, represented by this photo of a modern grey nurse shark, likely encountered dinosaurs. Guillaume Guinot, a research associate at the Natural History Museum of Geneva, told Discovery News, "The shark species Carcharias amonensis has possibly interacted with spinosaurs in Cenomanian (Late Cretaceous) estuarine waters of North Africa and Southern Europe, as remains of these are often found in association."

Guinot said there are "examples of shark predation (species Cretolamna appendiculata seen here) on an elasmosaurid plesiosaur carcass in the Late Cretaceous of Japan." Plesiosaurs were large, long-necked marine reptiles that looked a bit like underwater dinosaurs. If sharks enjoyed dead plesiosaurs, a dead dinosaur in the water must have been a filling and tasty meaty treat.