Ancient Shark-bitten Whale Bones off the Coast of South Carolina

I may revisit Edisto Island soon to hunt for fossils.  Ocean currents are eroding through Pleistocene and Miocene fossil deposits offshore and occasionally a nice specimen washes ashore.  Scuba divers find the best fossils here, but that sport is a bit too dangerous for my tastes. Most of the South Carolina coast is fossiliferous.  Scientists recently discovered 2 ancient whale skeletons off the South Carolina coast along with many associated shark teeth.

The 1st whale skeleton was found in the Cooper River near Charleston.  The stratigraphic context suggests the specimen is approximately 3.5 million years old.  The remains consisted of a partial skull, cheek bones, ribs, and teeth.  (The authors of the study refer to the whales plates as teeth.  Baleen whales have plates instead of teeth.) They belong to a baleen whale also known as a mysticete.  This doesn’t narrow down exactly which species of whale it was.  There are 15 species of baleen whale including bowhead, right, blue, Bryde’s, minke, fin, sei, humpack, gray, and a few others.  Shark teeth associated with this skeleton were tiger, silky, oceanic whitetip, and sandbar.  There are shark bite marks on the whale remains as well as shark teeth embedded in bone.

The tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) is an impressive predator and a definite man-eater.  They reach a length of 15 feet and a weight of 2000 pounds.  They often prey on sea turtles and can bite through the shell.  The largest bite marks on the whale skeleton are from tiger sharks, though it’s unlikely they’re responsible for the whale’s death.  According to the below referenced paper, the condition of the whale ‘s”tooth” suggests the whale died of old age and the sharks merely scavenged the carcass.

Teeth of the tiger shark

Tiger shark teeth.  Shed teeth of this species associated with whale bones are evidence sharks scavenged a dead whale 3.5 million years ago off the South Carolina coast.  This is also evidence this species is at least that old.

Youtube video of a tiger shark feeding upon a sea turtle.

stylized baleen.jpg (9640 bytes)

Baleen whales have plates instead of teeth.  The plates on 1 of the whales specimens appeared to be from an aged individual, suggesting the whale died of natural causes.  Curiously, the authors of the below referenced paper referred to the plate as a tooth.

The 2nd whale skeleton was found in Port Royal Sound, Laurel Bay, Beaufort County.  It also belongs to a baleen whale of undetermined species and includes cheek, “teeth,” flipper bones, and shoulder blade. This specimen was not found in a stratigraphic context that could give an estimated relative age.  It could be from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands of years old, though the bones and teeth appeared old to the authors.  Associated shark teeth were from tiger, dusky, and sharp-nosed.  The latter species is presently the most common inshore shark at this locality.  Teeth of cownose ray and guitarfish were also found here.  The smaller sharks along with the rays and guitarfish probably fed on the scraps torn free by the larger sharks.


Cicimurri, David; and James Knight

“Two Shark-bitten Whale Skeletons from Coastal Plain Deposits of South Carolina”

Southeastern Naturalist 8 (1) 2009


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3 Responses to “Ancient Shark-bitten Whale Bones off the Coast of South Carolina”

  1. Shark! A catalog of South Carolina shark species - Life List by Melinda Copp Says:

    […] swam in Devonian period seas about 400 million years ago, long before dinosaurs roamed the earth. Prehistoric sharks were prevalent where I live in the Lowcountry, including the infamous–and totally […]

  2. Mike Cruz Says:

    Believe this if you’d like to , the second whale fossils that were found off port royal river, Larual Bay ,Beaufort S.C back in 1990 . Myself and my nephew found those whale bones long before anyone else , I believe there was also some vertibrae because that was the first part I saw , I said to my nephew” look ” those are the the back bone of a large fish , And didn’t think else of it .

  3. Mike Cruz Says:

    Believe this if you’d like , myself and my nephew who was like 8 years old at the time while walking along the shore of Port Royle Sound , we came across those exact remains of that achiant whale on Laurel Bey when it was still military housing , I said to my nephew look ! The water wore out this piece of wood in the shape of some vertirae , I didn’t think much of it at the time , and two weeks later it comes out that someone else made a discovery of that same whale , amazing ain’t it

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