The fossilized remains of a crow shark that is believed to be 80 to 90 million years old has the experts talking at a Manitoba fossil museum, 39 years after it was unearthed at a mine site.
The Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in Morden, Man., had the Squalicorax remains in its collection room since 1975, but it wasn't until this year that staff studied the specimen and realized its significance.
For one thing, it may be the world's most complete fossil of such a creature.
"With shark fossils anywhere in the world, in Manitoba as well, what you'll typically find are just the teeth," he said, adding that sometimes vertebrae are found," Peter Cantelon, the centre's executive director, told CBC News on Friday.
"In this instance, we have an entire shark from tip to tail. The spine is visible all the way through; we can see a large portion of its skull, jaw, possible fin material, gill material. It's incredible how well this was preserved."
Michael Newbrey, a U.S.-based fish expert who travelled to Morden to study the fossil, says the three-metre specimen is "the largest known partially-articulated specimen for the genus in the world, being 1.2 times the size of the largest known specimen of Squalicorax."
"It is one of the most complete specimens of Squalicorax next to a two-metre-long specimen at the Smithsonian," he said in a centre news release.
Cantelon said the crow shark fossil was recovered by centre volunteers at a bentonite mine site in the area.
"They had to dig out the extant fossil and jacket it — not unlike a cast on a broken bone — and bring it back as quickly as possible," he said.
Aside from some notes, Cantelon said not much research was done on the specimen, which stayed in a drawer until staff had more time to look at it.
"Our curator was looking at it and starting to do some investigation, began to realize that what we had was a little more substantial than what we typically find," he said.
Ancient top predator
The discovery centre is already home to a number of marine reptile fossils including a 13-metre-long mosasaur fossil, found in 1974 near Thornhill, Man., which it has named Bruce.
Cantelon said the crow shark would have been a top predator in its day, even eating smaller mosasaurs in the ancient seaway that covered Manitoba at the time.
"That's one the things that we like about having this shark, is that it showcases the other apex predator in the seaway other than mosasaurs like Bruce," he said.
The centre will show off the specimen on Aug. 11, when it launches its Shark Week festivities.
The unprepared fossil will be visible through new observation windows looking into the fossil preparation lab.
The discovery centre will raise money to prepare the crow shark remains for research, then piece them together for long-term exhibition.