Monster of the Manzanos is new species of shark - Albuquerque Journal

Monster of the Manzanos is new species of shark

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

A CT scan of a rare shark fossil found nearly a year ago in the Manzano Mountains indicates it is a new species of Ctenacanth, or “spiny” shark, according to its discoverer, John Paul “JP” Hodnett.

The scan, technically known as a “computed tomography” scan, uses X-rays to make detailed pictures of internal structures. It was performed Friday at Presbyterian Rust Medical Center in Rio Rancho.

The scan revealed teeth on the exterior of the 8-foot-long shark’s head, making it “more like a monster than I ever imagined,” said Hodnett, a Washington, D.C.-based independent researcher and paleontologist. He calls the fossil, which was a female, Godzilla, until it gets an official name, probably within a year.

Until Hodnett’s discovery, a complete Ctenacanth shark fossil had never been found in North America, let alone in New Mexico, he said.

The discoverer of the ancient fossil in the Manzano Mountains last year, paleontologist John Paul "JP" Hodnett, center, is joined during the CT scan by Tom Suazo of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science, where the rare fossil will be displayed, and Specialist Jane Childs. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)
The discoverer of the ancient fossil in the Manzano Mountains last year, paleontologist John Paul “JP” Hodnett, center, is joined during the CT scan by Tom Suazo of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science, where the rare fossil will be displayed, and Specialist Jane Childs. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

The fossil was discovered on May 21, 2013, in a clay pit that used to be a lagoon 300 million years ago in the Pennsylvanian period.

This is an extremely rare case of what paleontologists call soft-body preservation, Hodnett said. It’s likely there was no oxygen at the bottom of the quarry, so no bacteria lived to decompose the shark cartilage after it died. The size of the shark’s 2-foot-long dorsal fin and the shape of its teeth led scientists to believe it may be a new species of Ctenacanth.

Hodnett and other scientists were in Albuquerque last May for a conference at the museum. As part of the conference, they went on a field trip to the Manzanos. While “peeling” layers of shale, Hodnett found a “bump” that turned out to be part of the fossil. It was later excavated by museum staff.

“Being a shark expert, this is a dream come true for me,” Hodnett said in a telephone interview Friday. “It’s more than I ever imagined. Because of the completeness of the fossil, it will definitely go in the record books and will probably be an iconic shark fossil for ages to come.”

The fossil eventually will be on permanent display at the museum, Hodnett said.

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