Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sea Monsters: The Babies Are So Cute

Over at Science Daily online there's an article about the Gutan Formation off the Darien coast of Panama, in the Caribbean. Regular readers of Triple P will be more than familiar with the area, which was a favorite of 17th century buccaneers and 19th century privateers alike. The Formation, a series of sandy outcrops that create a sheltered, warm water mangrove swamp, has been mined for years to make cement. This constant removal of layers revealed an amazing assortment of paleo-shark teeth from the largest of the species ever to swim Earth's oceans.

Carcharocles megalodon was sixty to seventy feet in length in adulthood; it had no natural predators. A single tooth from C. megalodon is the size of a man's hand and by "man" I mean a guy roughly the size of Tyson the Cyclops in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series of books by Rick Riordan. Saying that the animal was mind bogglingly huge is an understatement.

As babies, though, C. megalodon were quite vulnerable to predation, particularly from other sharks. Scientists imagine that the paleo-variety of sharks, like their modern cousins, probably kept their newborns and toddlers near the coast in "nurseries" where shallow water would deter adults from making them snack food. The find of over 400 shark teeth off Panama has yielded many that can positively be identified as the chompers of youthful C. megalodon.

The excavation, which is a bit of a hurry-up operation due to the literal stripping of the Gatun Formation, is a combined effort of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the University of Florida. According to the article two other paleo-shark nurseries have been identified in recent times, both off the coast of South Carolina in the U.S.

The Spanish along the Main would not only refer to the buccaneers of old as ladrones - thieves - but also los tiburones: the sharks. Evidently, long before Francois L'Olonnais and Henry Morgan, there were a lot of really big sharks in the Caribbean.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Yeah, those six foot long babies do sound ever so cute... I think I'd rather deal with the buccaneers of old, Pirate Queen. Thanks anyway, though.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! I'm with you. As long as you're armed or fast, you've got a fighting chance against a buccaneer. Nothing is going to save you if C. megalodon decides you're lunch.

Timmy! said...


The megashark seems to have met it's match in Chief Blackhawk, though... just saying.

A little hockey humor there, folks... Sorry about that.