SOLOMONS, MD – October 28, 2021 – Locally found fossils tell an incredible story of the interaction between a prehistoric shark and a whale. In a recently published paper in the French paleontological journal, Carnets de Geologie, Calvert Marine Museum (CMM) paleontologists describe a 12-15 million-year-old Miocene baleen whale radius (one of the flipper bones) that was bitten repeatedly by a prehistoric shark (Fig. 1).

The shark bites and head-thrashings were so forceful that both the upper and lower teeth in the jaws of the shark cut multiple gouges into the whalebone. At least three successive bite-shake traces, made by multiple teeth, mark both the upper and lower sides of the whale radius. These bite-shake traces consist of shallow, thin arching gouges that likely indicate scavenging rather than active predation (Fig. 2). The most likely way the three sets of shark bite-shake traces would have been made was by repeated biting as the shark re-positioned the whale flipper in its mouth to remove the flesh. (Fig. 2).

“This bone is very unusual because it preserves so much evidence of head-thrashing behavior of an extinct shark feeding on an extinct whale,” said CMM Curator of Paleontology, Dr. Stephen Godfrey.

The well-preserved bone was found along Calvert Cliffs, one of the most fossiliferous regions on the east coast of the continental United States, by local fossil hound Douggie Douglass. In addition to the innumerable body fossils, the Calvert Cliffs preserve trace fossils, which reveal evidence of animal behavior, including burrows made by invertebrates, coprolites (fossilized poop), and fossilized bones with shark bite traces.

We invite visitors to view this and other fossils in our Mezzanine Gallery exhibit, Sharks! Sink Your Teeth In! on display through December 2022

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