It can be hard to understand what extinct sharks look like. Reconstructing the anatomy of prehistoric sharks isn’t easy. Sharks have a cartilaginous internal structure rather than hard bones that can fossilize. With few exceptions – an exquisitely-preserved body fossil here, some calcified bits there – the teeth are what make up the majority of the shark fossil record. However there has been a particular shark that has perplexed paleontologists for centuries; the Helicoprion Shark, sometimes called the Whorl Shark. It was named by the Russian geologist Alexander Petrovich Karpinsky in 1899, meaning “spiral saw”, after the first fossil discovery in Kazakhstan.

It is estimated that the Helicoprion lived 270-290 million years ago. Analysis of fossilized remains have revealed a shark with an elaborate whorl set of teeth within its mouth, likely in the lower jaw. It does not appear that there were any teeth in the upper jaw, so soft bodied prey may have been caught on the teeth and pulled back into the esophagus, as the teeth retracted or turned.  Since we don’t really know what the Helicoprion looked like, there are many guesses as to how it might have looked. The image used here is only one, the links below show a number of other fearsome sketches as to what it might have looked like.  Another find was that this shark is likely more closely related to a ratfish. However, more work will need to be done to learn more about this mysterious creature.

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