Alabama researchers name extinct shark after retired LSU museum official

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (PA) – Louisiana State University museum official received a unique retirement gift – researchers in Alabama and South Carolina named a prehistoric shark species after it.

Suyin Ting has been responsible for the Vertebrate Paleontology Collections at the LSU Museum of Natural Science for 26 years. Its new namesake is Carcharhinus tingae, which lived 40 million years ago and was identified from fossilized teeth in the museum’s collection.

“I am very honored to be recognized by my peers for my work,” said Ting, who has studied mammalian paleontology, in a press release Thursday, the day of his retirement.

But, she added, the fact that David Cicimurri of the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia and Jun Ebersole of the McWane Science Center in Birmingham, Alabama, also identified many other specimens for the museum is much more significant. Their contribution to the vertebrate paleontology collection is enormous, she said.

Cicimurri, curator of natural history at the Museum of South Carolina, and Ebersole, director of collections at McWane, spent two days at the museum in 2020, photographing specimens and collecting data. The museum does not have a fossil fish specialist, and they were able to identify much of the material previously labeled “fish.”

Because shark skeletons are made of cartilage rather than bone, their teeth are often the only fossils available.

The two scientists realized that some teeth the size of a hand belonged to a previously unknown species. Their article identifying and describing it was published this week in the journal Cainozoic Research.

Researchers spent months studying the teeth, comparing them to those of other fossil and modern sharks.

“We were able to determine that the fossil species was closely related to modern requiem sharks, so we used jaws from modern species to reconstruct the arrangement of teeth in the mouths of extinct species,” Cicimurri said.

Carcharhinus tingae teeth have only been found in Louisiana, where they are relatively common, researchers say, evidence that these sharks lived in an ancient ocean that covered present-day Louisiana.

Scientists have come to LSU to work on a chapter of an yet to be published book called “Vertebrate Fossils of Louisiana”.

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