Shark Poop Discovery Earning Columbus State Professor National Publicity

A Columbus State University professor is garnering national publicity for his presentation at a recent national science meeting in Los Angeles.

David Schwimmer, a paleontologist in CSU’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences, was the co-author on a study of a 70-million-year-old piece of shark poop that showed the shark’s last meal was a baby turtle.

So far the story has been showcased on Livescience.com, Yahoo.com and on NBC’s news site.

Here is an excerpt from a story that Tia Ghose wrote for LiveScience.com. The full version can be found at http://www.livescience.com/40906-shark-poop-reveals-turtle-bones.html

A fossilized hunk of poop from an ancient baby shark has revealed the tiny predator's last meal: a baby turtle. The findings were presented here at the 73rd annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

"It's a case where a newborn shark ate a newborn turtle and died," said study co-author David Schwimmer, a paleontologist at Columbus State University in Georgia.

The 1.5-inch-long (3.8 centimeters) piece of fossilized poop, technically known as a coprolite, was found at a fossil bed near the South Carolina coastline. Between 70 million and 80 million years ago, when the poop's owner lived, the area was a tidal estuary where the ocean met inland river systems

Based on the size of the coprolite, Schwimmer and his colleagues hypothesize that the shark that ejected it was a newborn. Inside the coprolite were several tiny turtle vertebrae, each about 0.1 inches (about 3 millimeters) long, which must have come from a very young turtle.

The vertebrae suggest the turtle is a soft-shell freshwater species, whereas the shark comes from a marine environment. Based on that information, Schwimmer believes the shark may have emerged from an estuarine pupping ground, where baby sharks hatched. Once the newborn shark emerged, it devoured the unsuspecting newborn turtle.

The turtle was probably about 4 inches (10 cm) across, while the shark may not have been much bigger. The fact that the vertebrae were undigested indicates the baby predator died not long after eating, possibly because its last meal didn't sit well with the animal, Schwimmer said.

"It's possible the turtle was too much shell," Schwimmer told LiveScience. The shark "may have died from too much turtle."