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Snaggletooth Shark Skeleton Discovered in Maryland Backyard

Nov 10, 2014 06:38 PM EST

A snaggletooth shark skeleton, the most complete one ever found, was recently discovered in a Maryland backyard, according to reports.

While clearing space for a sunroom in his parent's backyard Oct. 23, the last thing Donald Gibson and his family expected to stumble upon was the first vertebra from a 15-million-year-old shark. But that's exactly what he, his brother Shawn, and his 7-year-old nephew, Caleb, found behind the Calvert County home that day, according to The Washington Post.

Ultimately, Gibson and his "team" found more than 80 vertebrae and hundreds of teeth, all from the same ancient shark. The position and the unusually good preservation they were in made this rare discovery especially valuable.


"While we're driving up there, I'm thinking to myself, 'This can't be an actual fossil of a shark,' " said Stephen Godfrey, curator of paleontology for the Calvert Marine Museum, who was contacted about the find. "But it couldn't be a horse or a cow. It had to be a shark."

But once he saw the fossil, there was no doubt as to what it was.

"It was immediately obvious," Godfrey added. "It was a genuine article."

The snaggletooth shark, or fossil shark (Hemipristis elongata), is a species of weasel shark and the only surviving member of the genus Hemipristis, according to IUCN Red List, which lists the species as "vulnerable." It is found in the Indo-West Pacific, including the Red Sea, from southeast Africa to the Philippines, north to China and south to Australia at depths down to 130 meters (426 feet).

Usually when shark fossils are found, especially their skulls, which are made of cartilage instead of bone, they are not so well preserved. But this latest find surprisingly withstood the tests of time. The ancient snaggletooth shark came to rest in the Godfrey's backyard belly up, buried in sand from sediment eroding from the Appalachian Mountains, keeping the shape of its skull and teeth intact.

This particular snaggletooth shark - a species named for its distinctively shaped teeth, up to an inch-and-a-half long - dates back to the Miocene Epoch and was likely somewhere between eight and 10 feet long, The Post reports.

Scientists in possession of the fossil next plan to take CT scans of remains and analyze the 3-D layout of the shark's mouth - something that's never been done before. The discovery will eventually be put on display in the Calvert Marine Museum in Maryland.

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