COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD)- A team of scientists from South Carolina and Alabama have announced the discovery of a new fossil shark species that was found in Summerville.

According to the South Carolina State Museum, the species, named Scyliorhinus weemsi, is believed to have lived approximately 30 million years ago during the Oligocene Epoch of the Paleogene Period.

“What is also interesting about these fossils is that they date to a period of time called the Oligocene Epoch, which is not well studied in the US. During this time period, the Earth’s climate cooled enough for ice caps to form at the poles—the first time that had happened in more than 200 million years. This was not the Ice Age that is commonly depicted in movies or on television, but one that occurred almost 30 million years before Wooly Mammoths and Saber-toothed Cats roamed South Carolina.”

Jun Ebersole, a scientist at the McWane Science Center in Birmingham, AL.
Illustration of a modern catshark (South Carolina State Museum)

The finding was based on the discovery of about a dozen microscopic teeth in Summerville that are small enough to fit on the tip of a pencil. Because of this, it is believed the shark was likely less than two feet long and likely ate a variety of invertebrates and other fishes.

“This new species is an ancient relative of living catsharks,” Ebersole said. “There are approximately 15 living members of this genus in the world’s oceans today, but their ancestry extends back to the time of the dinosaurs.” 

The Museum added that the discovery of the new shark was part of the larger study of the fossil sharks and bony fishes found in connection with two whale skulls and a leatherback sea turtle.

“In addition to the new catshark, we found teeth of twenty other kinds of sharks and rays, as well as the remains of about ten different bony fishes,” retired SC State Museum scientist David Cicimurri said.

The new species was named for Dr. Robert Weems, a geologist and paleontologist for the United States Geological Survey, who has studied ancient sediments and fossils along the Atlantic Coast and made many discoveries in South Carolina.