Fossils of six ancient shark species hitherto unknown to science have been found in Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, with researchers hailing the site as “one of the most diverse shark fauna in Mississippi in North America.”
Fossils of at least 40 different species of sharks and close relatives have been found in remote cave sites in the park since exploration efforts began 10 months ago. The six undiscovered species include large predators and small bottom feeders.
The fossils may be more than 325 million years old, the time when limestones formed from the Mammoth cave system during the Mississippi period of the late Paleozoic era.
“I’m absolutely amazed at the variety of sharks we observe as we explore the passages that make up the Mammoth Cave,”
“We can hardly move more than a few feet, because another tooth or spine has been spotted in the ceiling or wall of the cave. We see a number of different species of chondrites. [cartilaginous fish] that fill a variety of ecological niches, from large predators to small sharks that have lived among the crinoids [sea lily] a forest on the seabed that was their habitat. “
The National Park Service (NPS) said the new species would be described and identified in an upcoming scientific publication.
The fossils of sharks found in the Mammoth Cave include mainly teeth and fins of the fins, as the cartilage, which is softer than the bones, makes up most of the skeletons of sharks.
However, two partial cartilage skeletons of different species of sharks were found in the Mammoth Cave.
“One specimen was discovered by a caver with the Cave Research Foundation, and the other has been known by park officials for years,” the NPS said.
“The preservation of cartilage in layers of Paleozoic rocks is a very rare phenomenon and has led the team to fully document these specimens.
Most shark fossils have been found in areas inaccessible to visitors on cave tours, but park staff have made 3D models of the cartilaginous shark’s remains and are preparing photos, artists’ shows and three-dimensional models for exhibition.
“We are very excited to find such an important set of fossils in the park,” said paleontologist Rick Toomey, a cave resource management specialist and research coordinator at Mammoth Cave National Park.
“Although we know we have several shark teeth in the limestone exposed in the cave, we never imagined that we would have the abundance and variety of sharks that JP Hodnett has identified.”