Science

Prehistoric Fish Hunt: Massive Shark-Eating Dunkleosteus Search Heating Up

By Sean Kane , Mar 06, 2013 09:05 AM EST
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Erosion on the banks of Lake Erie is revealing remains of a massive, prehistoric fish that ate sharks.

Scott McKenzie, assistant professor of geology at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvannia, is waiting for the spring thaw to again begin looking for the mighty Dunkleosteus.

Dunkleosteus is a genus of giant, armored fish that lived 380-360 million years ago. The biggest of the genus, D. terrelli, grew up to 33 feet long and weighed four tons. The fish are thought to have lived in a prehistoric saltwater ocean that covered the Erie region hundreds of millions of years ago.

McKenzie is hoping that a winter of eroding wind, rain and snow has exposed more remains of the giant fish.

“It’s eroding slowly - much too slowly for my taste,” McKenzie told the Associated Press.

The Erie County resident who owns the property where the search is taking place won’t let McKenzie disclose the location of the dig. “We’re restricted to surface collection,” he said. “The landowners don’t want a significant hole dug on the land.”

McKenzie is hoping to collect and assemble the head and shoulder armor of the fish. But his goals are long term: he’s hoping to complete this portion within 10 years. When he does complete the front end of the fish, he hopes to display it in the university’s Sincak Natural History Collection, which he curates. Even the incomplete fish skeleton will be huge. The head and shoulders of Dunkleosteus is about as wide as the front of a car.

Dunkleosteus is not a fish you’d want to encounter, even armed with a fishing rod.

“If you caught him on a rod and reel, you’d be in for the fight of a lifetime," said McKenzie. "And if you fell in (the water), heaven help you because no one else could help you.”

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