Rare shark fossils found in Mammoth Cave

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Mammoth Cave, Ky. (WKRN) – Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky has always been a popular destination for tourists, and definitely not a place you would expect to find sharks!

But recently, scientists marveled over some rare shark fossils found in the cave.

I know what you’re asking: “Did sharks once swim in Mammoth Cave”?

No, these sharks lived 330 million years ago, when this part of the country and much of the United States was an ocean sea-floor.

The significance of the find was that instead of only shark teeth, parts of a large, fossilized shark head that included fossilized soft cartilage was discovered in the cave wall.

Fossilized parts of the lower jaw of a large shark that includes fossilized soft cartilage

Cartilage is rarely found because soft tissue usually does not fossilize well.

Rick Olson, Mammoth Cave National Park Ecologist explained, “The amount of cartilage We have apparently is very, very rare. And so we were lucky enough to be visited by Dr. J. P. Hodnett from Maryland who is a paleontologist, a specialist on fossil sharks and he has found out that we have as many as 10 new species that we didn’t know about in Mammoth Cave. And that’s very exciting for us”.

“330 million years ago is a long time ago. This is way before the dinosaurs. The idea that there can be such a diversity of sharks that long ago is a surprise, at least to a person like myself, and I think to most people, Olson exclaimed.

Because the fossils are embedded in the wall and too delicate to chisel out, they will use photogrammetry, the science of taking measurements from photographs to re-produce a specimen.

“People are naturally interested in sharks, explained Olson, and so, once we know exactly what all the species are that we have, there are artists who do fantastic work. They will draw reproductions of them. What they would have looked like back then, and what their environment would have looked like. And we hope to interpret that to the public. It’s part of education. You might even call it “edutainment” because people find sharks to be fun”.

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