Sharks Dominated Prehistoric European Seas

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A recreation of Squalicorax, one of 18 shark species identified from 100 to 72 million-year-old rocks.
Dmitry Bogdanov

Waters off of France and the U.K. were once teeming with sharks, many of which would have looked like today's range of shark species.

Samples of Late Cretaceous rock from the region turned up remains of 96 different types of prehistoric sharks, 18 of which represent new species, a paper in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology reports.

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The sharks lived from 100 to 72 million years ago, but many looked like modern sharks.

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"If you were to see a Cretaceous shark, I am pretty sure that it would look no different from one in an aquarium," senior author David Ward of The Natural History Museum in London told Discovery News. "Shark body design stabilized about 140 million years ago and, other than a few families that have suffered from extinction, remains the same now."

Lead author Guillaume Guinot, a researcher at the Natural History Museum in Switzerland, added that many of the identified fossil species have somewhat similar living representatives, such as today's angel sharks, carpetsharks, bullhead sharks, catsharks, cowsharks, dogfish sharks, sandtiger sharks and houndsharks. These are not direct relatives of the extinct sharks, however.

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The Late Cretaceous sharks appear to have inhabited all sorts of water habitats off the coasts of what are now France and the U.K. Some sharks lived on or near the sea floor, while others actively hunted throughout the prehistoric seas. The largest sharks from the area at the time belonged to the genus Cretoxyrhina.

"This genus is also found in the Late Cretaceous seas of USA (the Western Interior Seaway) and probably reached 16.5 to 20 feet long and likely looked pretty much like the modern great white shark, although the two are not closely related," Guinot said.

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