300 million-year-old “Godzilla shark” is now officially named Hoffman's Dragon Shark
The fossilized skeleton of this ancient shark was found in the Manzano Mountains near Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2013.
It was the unusually complete and well-preserved 6.7-foot-long (2 meters) skeleton including 12 rows of piercing teeth set in robust , powerful jaws, and a pair of 2.5-foot-long (0.8 meters) fin spines on its back. Due to its enormous size and the reptilian nature of the spines on its back, it was nicknamed the Godzilla shark.
John-Paul Hodnett, a paleontologist at the Maryland-National Capitol parks and Planning Commission, first discovered the fossil and led the new research.
“I am also a big fan of the Godzilla film franchise. So when the features of this shark came to light, I thought it was the perfect nickname.” Mr. Hodnett said.
After being classified as its own species, it has finally received a proper name. It was named Hoffman's dragon shark (Dracopristis hoffmanorum), after the family that owned the land where the skeleton was found and due to its monstrous, reptilian appearance.
“It is very rare to find skeletal material of ancient shark, let alone a complete skeleton that also the body outline and other soft tissue impressions,” Mr. Hodnett explained.
Hoffman's dragon shark belonged to a group of mysterious ancient sharks called the Ctenacanths and dated around 390 million years ago during the Devonian period. It was a break through experience for the researchers to learn more about this group. The main difference between the Ctenacanths and modern sharks is their jaws. According to Mr. Hodnett, their jaws are larger, more firmly attached to the cranium, making them less flexible. This fixed jaw structure may indicate the ancient sharks were not apex predators as modern sharks are.
“From the anatomy of the pectoral fins and tail we propose that Dracopristis was most likely a predator that kept close to the bottom of the ancient lagoon estuary it lived in,” Mr. Hodnett said.
The researchers pointed out that the large spines on the back of Hoffman's dragon shark may have been used as defense against larger sharks. Many large shark teeth were found in the area as evidence to prove this conclusion.
The Ctenacanths went extinct 252 million years ago at the end of Paleozoic Era. The researchers are still puzzled about exact reason of the shark's extinction.
The more field work and studies continue in the area to deepen the knowledge of their evolutionary characteristics such as longevity, growth rate, age of reproductive maturity and reproductive output.
The scientists need more sampling across sizes, sexes and the environments of these species to make a greater understanding of their life-history traits.