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Tiny teeth lead scientists to discover new shark species

April 2, 2022 GMT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A team of scientists from South Carolina and Alabama have discovered a new shark species that lived nearly 30 million years ago thanks to the discovery of the animal’s teeth that are so small one could fit on the tip of a pencil.

The shark was likely less than 2 feet (60 centimeters) long and was named Scyliorhinus weemsi after esteemed geologist and paleontologist Dr. Robert Weems of the United States Geological Survey.

“There are approximately 15 living members of this genus in the world’s oceans today, but their ancestry extends back to the time of the dinosaurs,” said scientist Jun Ebersole of McWane Science Center in Birmingham, Alabama, in a statement.

Ebersole worked with David Cicimurri and James Knight from the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia on a larger study of shark fossils and other boney fish during the Oligocene Epoch about 30 years ago.

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Sea levels were much higher then, but the Earth was cooling and ice caps were forming at the poles, Cicimurri said.

“Studies like ours help to determine how plants and animals responded to climate change in the distant past, allowing us to forecast responses to future climate changes,” he said.

The microscopic teeth of the newly discovered shark species were found in Summerville, some 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the ocean. Back then, the area was under 300 feet (91 meters) of water.