A New Name for Sharkzilla

Eileen Grogan, Ph.D., Richard Lund, Ph.D. and J.P. Hodnett, Ph.D. ’17 (M.S.) spent the last eight years confirming the evolutionary branch of an entire genus of sharks based on Hodnett’s discovery of the “Godzilla shark.”

by Emmalee Eckstein

Summer 2021

fossilized shark tooth

Photo of the Dracopristis hoffmanorum fossil provided by J.P. Hodnett '17 (M.S.).

Eight years ago, J.P. Hodnett ’17 (M.S.) was performing fieldwork at a conference put on by the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science when he uncovered a mysterious fossil. It turned out to be a shark — 6.7 feet long with fins reaching more than 2.5 feet and 12 rows of razor-sharp teeth. The specimen was unofficially dubbed the “Godzilla shark.” Now, the shark has been formally named Dracopristis hoffmanorum and identified as a new species.

At the time of the discovery, Hodnett knew there was only one place he could go to classify the specimen. “When researchers make discoveries like this, they’re told to come see Lund and Grogan,” says Eileen Grogan, Ph.D., senior research associate emerita at Saint Joseph’s. Grogan and her collaborator and partner, Richard Lund, Ph.D., research associate at Saint Joseph’s, are a mutual powerhouse of expertise in paleontology. The pair have gained notoriety for their work in central Montana uncovering the Bear Gulch Fossil Fish Collection, which is one of the most articulate fossil collections in the world.

As Hodnett pursued his master’s in biology under Grogan, the three researchers found his discovery was major. The Godzilla shark confirms an evolutionary branch of ctenacanth sharks and shark-like fishes that split off from modern sharks and rays about 390 million years ago.

“Discoveries like this one give us an incredible look into the series of events that had to occur for the fin-to-limb transition to take place in our evolution,” Grogan says. “This shark species … has incredibly significant implications for us as we piece together the evolution of the world in deep time.”