A new species of megamouth shark extinct for about 23 million years was finally identified. The beast’s teeth were first discovered almost 50 years ago.
The shark likely hunted for food in both deep and shallow waters, using its massive mouth to filter food, which included plankton and fish. Shark teeth from the new species were first found in the 1960s, but there were no similar living creatures, so scientists weren’t sure what to make of the find.
Discovery News reports that study co-author Kenshu Shimada, a paleobiologist at DePaul University in Chicago, explained, “It was a species that was known to be a new species for a long time. But no one had taken a serious look at it.”
Researchers discovered hundreds of similar teeth over the years along the coast of California and Oregon. They were all thrown in a drawer in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum and a few other California museums, and forgotten.
Then, scientists discovered the modern megamouth shark in 1976, dubbed the Megachasma pelagios, reports LiveScience. The creature feeds exclusively on plankton by using its mouth to engulf water and force the water through gills that separate the plankton and direct it toward the digestive track.
The monster shark lurks in the deep ocean during the day, then comes to the shallow surface waters at night to eat. Shimada came across the forgotten shark teeth at the museum and was told that other scientists were studying them. However, it turned out that those scientists weren’t actively looking into the species.
Shimada contacted the scientists in charge and persuaded them to look at the teeth again with him. The team discovered that the ancient megamouth shark was related to the modern one, but it had slightly longer, pointier teeth. Shimada explained, “That suggests that they probably had a wider food selection. They could have probably eaten plankton, but they were also probably feeding on fish.”
The teeth were found in both deep-ocean and near-shore marine sediments, leading the authors to believe that the extinct monster probably started to migrate between both places to search for food. The new species hasn’t been named yet, but the genus will be called Megachasma. The findings surrounding the ancient megamouth shark will be detailed in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Vertebrae Paleontology.
[Image via Wikimedia Commons]