The bones of a giant shark measuring over 20 feet long (7 meters) has been discovered in Texas, researchers say. And even though the saying goes that everything is bigger in Texas, the gigantic shark specimen is still smaller than a like specimen in Oklahoma, which measures over 30 feet (10 meters) in length.
The Houston Chronicle reported June 4 that researchers from the University of Oklahoma announced this week the finding of a massive shark believed to be Leptostyrax macrorhiza, a monstrous fish that once cruised the the Western Interior Seaway, a waterway that split North America from modern-day Texas to the Arctic Sea. The shark would have lived over 100 million years ago, a time-frame that expands the boundaries of what scientists new about the predatory species that was extant during the Cretaceous Period.
University of Oklahoma doctoral candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology and study co-author Joseph Frederickson says that the fossil was discovered by accident in 2009 by a paleontology club he had founded while an undergrad student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. On a trip to the Duck Creek Formation outside Fort Worth, Texas, another undergrad and the future Mrs. Frederickson, Janessa Doucette (who is also now a University of Oklahoma doctoral candidate), stumbled over what she thought was a boulder. But sticking up out of the ground was what resembled a skeletal vertebra.
According to LiveScience, further examination revealed that the artifact was fossilized bone, a 4.5-inch diameter spinal vertebra with lines (called lamellae) running along the outside that placed it in the same broad taxonomic category as great white, sand tiger, and goblin sharks. Frederickson’s team would unearth two more vertebrae of roughly the same size, and, using the vertebrae to get an estimate, the particular shark the fossils belonged to would have measured at least 20.3 feet long.
Still, the latest Leptostyrax macrorhiza finding wouldn’t be the largest of its species ever collected. That distinction would go to paleontologist Kenshu Shimada of DePaul University in Chicago. He dug up a vertebra of the species that belonged to a 32-foot specimen in the Kiowa Shale in Kansas.
The new study, using both the Kansas and Texas findings, concluded that the species was larger than previously thought. Such as gigantic species would have been formidable and require plenty of food, a conclusion that also has scientists rethinking the ecosystem of the shallow Western Interior Seaway.
But at the end of the day, how does the giant Texas (and Kansas) shark measure up to the largest shark ever? Actually, it isn’t even close.
Megalodon (Carcharocles megalodon) is still the largest shark ever discovered, measuring an impressive 60 feet in length. That would make Megalodon twice the size of the largest Leptostyrax macrorhiza uncovered to date. According to an older LiveScience article, that particular predatory monster trolled the Earth’s seas up until about 2.6 million years ago.
Megalodon’s extinction has been a point of controversy in the past few years, mostly fueled by the popular fake documentaries aired on Discovery Channel during its annual “Shark Week” schedule. Loosely basing the idea that Megalodon could still be extant on scientific simulation tests (where only 6 of 10,000 placed the gigantic shark in today’s oceans), the shows caused an outcry among fans of the shark programs and the network, claiming the pseudo-science used in the “documentaries” in order to gain television ratings detracted from the credibility of the network and blemished its reputation for airing science-related material.