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Teeth from ancient megashark found on Australia beach

By AFP - Aug 09,2018 - Last updated at Aug 09,2018

Fossil enthusiast Philip Mullaly holds a giant shark tooth — evidence that a shark nearly twice the size of a great white once stalked Australia’s ancient oceans — at the Melbourne Museum on Thursday (AFP photo by William West)

MELBOURNE — A rare set of teeth from a giant prehistoric megashark twice the size of the great white have been found on an Australian beach by a keen-eyed amateur enthusiast, scientists said on Thursday.

Philip Mullaly was strolling along an area known as a fossil hotspot at Jan Juc, on the country’s famous Great Ocean Road some 100 kilometres from Melbourne, when he made the find.

He told Museums Victoria, and Erich Fitzgerald, senior curator of vertebrate palaeontology, confirmed the seven centimetre-long teeth were from an extinct species of predator known as the great jagged narrow-toothed shark (Carcharocles angustidens).

The shark, which stalked Australia’s oceans around 25 million years ago, feasting on small whales and penguins, could grow more than nine metres long, almost twice the length of today’s great white shark.

“These teeth are of international significance, as they represent one of just three associated groupings of Carcharocles angustidens teeth in the world, and the very first set to ever be discovered in Australia,” Fitzgerald said.

He explained that almost all fossils of sharks worldwide were just single teeth, and it was extremely rare to find multiple associated teeth from the same shark. 

This is because sharks, who have the ability to regrow teeth, lose up to a tooth a day and cartilage, the material a shark skeleton is made of, does not readily fossilise.

Fitzgerald led a team of palaeontologists, volunteers and Mullaly on two expeditions earlier this year to excavate the site, collecting more than 40 teeth in total.

Most came from the megashark, but several smaller teeth were also found from the sixgill shark (Hexanchus), which still exists today.

Museums Victoria palaeontologist Tim Ziegler said the sixgill teeth were from several different individuals and would have become dislodged as they scavenged on the carcass of the Carcharocles angustidens after it died.

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