It has been fifty years since some shark teeth were found along the coasts of California and Oregon. They were tossed in a drawer for years. Now the findings are confirmed, reports NBC News today from Los Angeles. They belong to the megamouth shark that prowled the ocean twenty three million years ago.
Through the inquisitive interest of Kenshu Shimada, a paleobiologist at De Paul University in Chicago, he found the shark teeth at the Los Angeles County Museum. He was told that other scientists were studying them. He pursued that information but there were no scientists actively working on the species.
Shimada’s interest was piqued. He contacted scientists Douglas Long of the California Academy of Sciences and Bruce Welton of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, and asked them to take a second look with him.
"It was a species that was known to be a new species for a long time," said study co-author Kenshu Shimada, a paleobiologist at DePaul University in Chicago. "But no one had taken a serious look at it," said Shimada, who described the new species here at the 73rd annual meeting of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology.
The scientists found that in 1976 there was a discovery of a modern megamouth shark, named Megachasma pelagios, which feeds exclusively on shrimplike creatures called plankton. The sharks open their mouths to engulf the plankton-filled water, forcing the water through gills equipped with a filtering apparatus, called gill rakers and then digest the plankton. This method is used by blue whales through a similar filter process of krill through their baleen plates.
The similarity between the modern shark and the extinct beast is that they lurk in the deep ocean during the day, but travel up to the shallow waters chasing plankton groups at night, according to Shimada.
The team found the ancient creature unlike the modern shark, had slightly longer, pointier teeth. “That suggests that they probably had a wider food selection," Shimada told Live Science. "They could have probably eaten plankton, but they were also probably feeding on fish."
Shimada stated that the team determined the ancient shark was slightly longer, less-wide snout than the modern megamouth shark. The extinct creature is believed to have been 20 ft. in length.
It is unsure how the extinct creature adapted a wider mouth feeding filter ability, but the teeth have been found in the ocean and in shallow waters.
"Scientists haven't officially named the new species yet, but the genus will be called Megachasma", Shimada said in his interview with Live Science.
The findings will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.