Rare British shark fossil joins collection

30 July 2008

A rare fossil of a prehistoric British shark joins the Natural History Museum palaeontology collections today.

The shark, which was discovered in Durham, is 240 million years old and is the only known complete specimen of the primitive shark genus Wodnika .

Illustration of what the ancient shark wodnika would have looked like. © Peter Forey

Illustration of what the ancient shark wodnika would have looked like. © Peter Forey

Well preserved fossil

The remarkably well-preserved shark measures nearly 1m in length and looks most like a modern bullhead shark.

'To find a British shark so well preserved is very rare,' says Alison Longbottom, fossil expert at the Museum. 'We only have 3 other examples of Wodnika in our collections and they are only small bits of teeth and spine.'

Whole Wodnika shark revealed

This new fossil reveals the whole of a Wodnika shark for the first time, including the shapes of its fins, teeth and denticles. Denticles are surface structures found on the skin that allow sharks to swim silently and reduce drag. They make swimming more efficient.  

The tail shape of the new specimen shows that Wodnika was probably a strong swimmer.

Its blunt, rounded teeth show that it crushed its food - it would have eaten shellfish, crustaceans and possibly even sea urchins.

Internally, the cartilage skeleton is preserved, which is rare for fossilised sharks.

240 million years ago

This Wodnika shark dates from the late Permian period, when sharks were relatively rare.

When it was alive, it would have been the largest shark swimming in the Zechstein sea. This long-disappeared sea covered a large part of northern Europe and the north of England. The sea contained a variety of fish, though Wodnika was one of the rarest.

The new specimen will be used for future research as well as to identify other fragments of Wodnika specimens in the Museum's collections.

Join a talk with our expert

Alison Longbottom will be discussing the evolution of sharks on 2 August at 12.30 and 14:30 in A Bite from the Past free Nature Live event at the Museum.