Resurrecting The Shark

Nov 7, 2017

A prehistoric mystery. A fossil so mesmerizing, it would boggle the minds of scientists for more than a century…until a motley crew of ancient shark fanatics decided to try to bring the monster predator back to life.

In 1993, Alaskan artist and paleo-fish enthusiast Ray Troll stumbled upon the weirdest fossil he had ever seen―a platter-sized spiral of tightly wound shark teeth. This chance encounter in the basement of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County sparked Troll's obsession with Helicoprion, a mysterious monster from deep time. 

In 2010, tattooed undergraduate student and returning Iraq War veteran Jesse Pruitt became seriously smitten with a Helicoprion fossil in a museum basement in Idaho. These two bizarre-shark disciples found each other, and an unconventional band of collaborators grew serendipitously around them, determined to solve the puzzle of the mysterious tooth whorl once and for all.

Helicoprion was a Paleozoic chondrichthyan about the size of a modern great white shark, with a circular saw of teeth centered in its lower jaw―a feature unseen in the shark world before or since. For some ten million years, long before the Age of Dinosaurs, Helicoprion patrolled the shallow seas around the supercontinent Pangaea, the apex predator of its time.

In 2013, imagination, passion, scientific process, and state-of-the-art technology merged into an unstoppable force that reanimated the remarkable creature through important new discoveries and insights into what it looked like and how the tooth whorl functioned—pushing the dazzling and awe-inspiring beast into the spotlight of modern science.

About the Author:

Susan Ewing is the author of The Great Alaska Nature Factbook, The Great Rocky Mountain Nature Factbook, and Going Wild in Washington and Oregon, as well as two children’s books. Her articles and essays have appeared in Salon, Pacific Standard, Outside Bozeman, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Big Sky Journal, The Seattle Times, and other publications and anthologies. She graduated from University of Alaska-Fairbanks and now lives in Bozeman, Montana.

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