Miner finds 300-million-year-old shark fossil in Kentucky

what sharp teeth it has after 300 million years

ctruman@herald-leader.comApril 9, 2011 

Back when Kentucky was like the Gulf of Mexico, about 300 million years ago, a shark from the Edestus genus swam the seas in what is now Webster County.

It was a big critter — 20 to 25 feet long, weighing about 1,000 pounds — and it had large, sharp teeth, the better to tear apart the soft fish upon which it preyed.

Fast forward to current times: Kentucky has ceased to be a primeval resort for Edestus and its relatives, and hundreds of millions of years of rock cover their skeletons.

But on Feb. 24, Jay Wright, 25, a miner for Webster County Coal, noticed something jutting from the roof of the Dotiki Mine, where he was bolting a roof 700 feet underground.

A piece of rock fell.

"I looked up to see if any more was going to fall, and that's when I noticed the jaw," Wright said Friday in a telephone interview.

Wright had found the 300-million-year-old black jawbone and still-sharp teeth of an Edestus.

"My initial thought was, "Gosh, what is this thing?'" Wright said.

The find drew the attention of Jerry Weisenfluh, associate director of the Kentucky Geological Survey in Lexington, who said that an Edestus find is rare, and one this big rarer still.

"It would have been an intimidating animal," he said Friday.

Steve Greb, a geologist with the geological survey, said that much is unknown about the shark. Some have speculated that it had several rows of teeth and came at its prey with a pinking-shear or pincer-like grip.

Lexingtonians can see the shark jaw in the lobby of UK's Mines and Minerals Building at 504 Rose Street from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.

But the miner's find isn't the only place in Central Kentucky to see what's left from hundreds of millions of years ago.

It's also pretty easy to see 400-million-year-old rock on the Kentucky River Palisades near High Bridge anytime, Greb said.

Non-miners tend to think of mines as grim places, but Weisenfluh sees them as great sources of geological information. "They are like natural history museums," he said.

The jawbone went on display Friday morning, and by mid-morning, it was drawing a steady stream of gawkers.

It will remain at UK for about a month, and then it will be returned to Wright, the father of three children, ages 4, 3 and four months.

"They don't know what it is, but they know that Daddy did something," Wright said.

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