McWane Science Center helps discover 40-million-year-old fossil shark species

Fossil Carcharhinus tingae teeth. Image courtesy of Jun Ebersole, McWane Science Center, Birmingham, AL.

On Monday, December 20th, a pair of scientists—including Jun Ebersole, Director of Collections at McWane Science Center—announced the discovery of a new fossil shark species. The new species, which was discovered in southern Louisiana, dates from the Eocene Epoch of the Paleogene Period—a whopping 40 million years ago. Keep reading to learn more about the species & how McWane Science Center is involved.

Meet the Carcharhinus tingae, an extinct shark species from 40 million years ago

McWane Shark
Photograph of a modern “requiem” shark. Photo courtesy of www.wikipedia.org

Say hello to the Carcharhinus tingae, an extinct member of a group of shark species that includes the modern Bull and Dusky sharks. Although the fossils that represent the new species had been collected decades ago, the scientists recently recognized the fossils as new while at the Museum of Natural Science at Louisiana State University conducting a larger study of fossil fishes of Louisiana.

Those two scientists are:

  • David Cicimurri, Curator of Natural History, South Carolina State Museum in Columbia
  • Jun Ebersole, Director of Collections, McWane Science Center in Birmingham

This is not the first time that McWane Science Center has been involved in the discovery of an ancient fossil species. In December 2020, Bham Now reported that a team of scientists from McWane Science Center were involved in the discovery of two ancient fossil shark species from the Southeast. Those two species also lived during the Paleogene Period, between 65- and 35-million years ago.

About the Carcharhinus tingae

McWane Science Center
A aquatic display at McWane Science Center. Photo via Nathan Watson for Bham Now

So, why is this discovery important? McWane Science Center listed several reasons:

  • The new fossil species helps to increase our knowledge of the known fossil shark diversity in the ancient Gulf of Mexico. 
  • The fossils represent only the second Eocene Carcharhinus species to be described from North America and is one of the oldest members of this genus in the world.
  • This shark species is an ancestor of modern Requiem Sharks, showing this family of sharks was present in the Gulf of Mexico at least as early as 40-million-years ago. 

Scientists spent months studying the teeth, comparing them to the teeth of other fossil & modern-day sharks.

“By examining the teeth of living sharks, we were able to determine that the fossil species was closely related to modern Requiem Sharks, so we used jaws of modern species to reconstruct how the teeth were arranged in the mouth of the extinct species.”

David Cicimurri, Curator of Natural History, South Carolina State Museum

According to Cicimurri and Ebersole, Carcharhinus tingae teeth are relatively common in Louisiana, but have not yet been found elsewhere. This discovery is evidence that Carcharhinus tingae lived in an ancient ocean that covered what is now Louisiana.

Want to learn more about the Carcharhinus tingae? Read the team’s full study, titled New Paleogene elasmobranch (Chondrichthyes) records from the Gulf Coastal Plain of the United States, including a new species of Carcharhinus de Blainville, 1816, which was published today in the journal Cainozoic Research.

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Nathan Watson
Originally from Leiper's Fork, Tennessee. Birmingham-Southern '19.
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