Featured Creature Friday: The Fabulous Fossil Sharks

I kind of have a thing for “living fossils.” Maybe it’s just because I watched Jurassic Park a few too many times in my youth, but I love the idea that there’s so much of our planet’s natural history still visible to us today, from the deep and fascinating layers of geology to the life forms that haven’t changed much in the last few million years. Some of those animals are so bizarre that they’re almost difficult to comprehend: they seem like things that couldn’t possibly exist in our world. Maybe they think the same about us.

photo from National Geographic / Getty

One of those creatures is the frilled shark, which is notable not only for its overwhelming creepiness but also because it’s one of those deep-sea swimmers that we rarely see. They’re something of a reminder to us of just how much we don’t know about our planet and the other creatures that live here. And the fossil record on these animals goes back 80 million years. 80 million years. Let that sink in for a moment while you watch this video of an extremely rare live specimen that was found off the coast of Japan:

(It’s worth noting that this shark was way outside of its habitat long before it was captured and taken to the marine park, so while I’m not a big fan of the “We have found a rare animal, let us place it in captivity!” mentality, this shark was likely already dying before it was captured.)

We don’t really know that much about frilled sharks, because of the depths at which they usually reside (thousands of feet below the surface). We do know they eat things like squid and other sharks. Their teeth are three-pronged and their fixed upper jaws (unlike the hinged ones of modern sharks) give some idea of exactly how far back the genetic heritage goes on these sharks.

photo from National Geographic / Getty

As a bonus, because personally I believe that one creepy shark simply isn’t enough, here are a few more. This is a Goblin Shark:

This thing has a mouth that practically acts independent of its body; check out how the mouth works when the shark bites into the diver’s suit (presumably no divers were harmed in the making of this documentary :D), and then how the mouth returns to its original configuration once the shark lets go. This shark is like the transformer of the sea. Or maybe I ought to compare it to Alien. Whatever, it’s freaking awesome.

My favorite freaky prehistoric shark video, however, is this one of the Six-Gilled Shark, filmed at a depth of 3300 feet:

It’s not the world’s most exciting video, and the Six-Gilled Shark doesn’t look all that different from the sharks we’re more familiar with, but this thing is massive, at about 18 feet long. (There are larger sharks, like the Basking Shark, but this one’s pretty impressive anyway.) The best part of the video is the audio though, so make sure you watch it with the sound on so you can listen to some marine scientists having a joygasm over the sighting.

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12 thoughts on “Featured Creature Friday: The Fabulous Fossil Sharks

  1. That Goblin Shark is going to give me nightmares. lol That is CRAZY the thing it does with its mouth!

  2. OMG, how cool are these photos. :) Thanks for the post and the links and the photos. I love these weird looking fish!

  3. That’s amazing! Aren’t they always saying sharks are the most efficient/effective creatures since they haven’t had to evolve like the rest of us? That goblin shark is ubercreepy. Not even a top hat and a monocle would save that guy ;)

    • A top hat and a monocle would be a pretty clear signal that that particular shark was, in fact, a Bond villain. ;D I don’t know whether sharks are supposed to be the most efficient creatures, but there’s something for the theory… like crocodiles, they haven’t changed much in a few hundred million years, which must be a sign they’re doing something right.

  4. Disturbingly fascinating! Wonderful post, MacKenzie :-) It sure makes me glad to be firmly planted on Terra Firma ;-)

  5. I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award! :)

  6. What the what?!? I had no idea such a thing existed. It’s fitting that this shark eats other sharks. I can’t think of a more badass thing than being a shark who EATS THE OTHER SHARKS. She looks like some kind of crazy horror movie puppet at the beginning of that video. I also like how they refer to her as a “sea monster” in that video. Lolz.

    • I don’t know, though… would it be more badass to be a shark that eats other sharks, or a shark that eats like… crocodiles or something? I was watching a documentary the other day and watched this band of otters beat the crap out of a huge 8-foot-long crocodile and I realized that sometimes what the animal kingdom needs is just some good old-fashioned fisticuffs.

      Also, she totally is a sea monster. LOOK AT THAT THING. Maybe they grow to be enormous when they’re really old, and we’ve just found the real-life explanation for Nessie.

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