Rediscovered Morden shark fossil floats into ‘special’ territory

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An 83-million-year-old fossil is something new at a southern Manitoba museum.

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An 83-million-year-old fossil is something new at a southern Manitoba museum.

The remains of the member of an ancient shark species recently rediscovered at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre are now on display in Morden.

The fossil, originally unearthed in the 1970s, had been tucked away in the centre’s storage room. At the time, there wasn’t the capacity to observe and research it in close detail — a situation that has now changed.

SUPPLIED A potentially new, ancient shark species was recently rediscovered at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in Morden

“This fossil was actually discovered in 1975 on a farm a few miles west of Morden,” Adolfo Cuetara, centre executive director, said Monday. “The volunteers at the time in the ‘70s were collecting all kinds of fossils being discovered in those mines.”

The shark fossil, informally called Dave, is from the Cretaceous period. At the time, the continent was divided by a network of seaways; most of Manitoba was underwater.

“It was full of life with all of these creatures we have in the collection,” Cuetara said.

SUPPLIED The fossil, which was originally unearthed in the 1970s, was tucked away in the fossil centre’s storage room.

Dave’s recent rediscovery is paving the way for new knowledge about what once swam locally millions of years ago. Generally, paleontologists are left with shark teeth, as the rest of their body is mostly cartilage — but Dave has no teeth at all, Cuetara said.

“What we know already is that this is a very special one,” the director said. “In this case, we found a whole, near-complete skeleton but with no teeth — that’s one of the characteristics making (it) a special specimen.”

Cuetara said the centre’s team of paleontologists is closely examining the fossil’s physical characteristics for scientific research. Once the findings go through the peer-review process, he said, they could know whether Dave is a new species in as early as a few weeks to a few months.

SUPPLIED The shark fossil, informally called Dave, is from the Cretaceous period. At the time, the continent was divided by a network of seaways; most of Manitoba was underwater.

Kirstin Brink, a vertebrate paleontologist and assistant professor in earth sciences at the University of Manitoba, said a detailed, comparative study of the fossil’s physiology is required before any such determination.

The rediscovery of Dave is significant because there has never been a shark like it unearthed in the province, she said.

“Manitoba looked completely different 80 million years ago, because it was underneath this seaway,” Brink said. “The skeleton is super interesting because it’s all the vertebrae. Usually, this part is not preserved in the fossil record.”

SUPPLIED Fossilized remains of the pectoral fin.

Brink, who runs the U of M vertebrate paleontology research program, is one of the only people studying such fossils in the province. She hopes an uptick in such work in Manitoba will bring forth more discoveries.

“Now that I’m starting to get graduate students and other researchers working on fossils at the museum, we might be finding that there are more species hidden away in (its) drawers.”

Dave now has a home beside Bruce, the Morden museum’s resident mosasaur fossil.

cierra.bettens@freepress.mb.ca

SUPPLIED At the time the fossil was originally found there wasn’t the capacity to observe and research it in close detail — a situation that has now changed.
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