Creating Complete Shark Skull Classifications

When writing these posts I always attempt to write about discoveries that are somewhat relevant, where their applications are readily apparent. But sometimes I find a paper which is just too interesting, in a sort of bizarre way, to pass up. Today’s story is about the recent creation of a catalogue of computer tomography scans of shark skulls. Across the wide array of shark species skull shape can vary wildly, with the hammerhead shark (pictured below) providing the most extreme example. Of course these skull shapes are specifically evolved for the habitat and prey that the shark is likely to encounter.

Image result for hammer head shark
Thank you to the BBC for this picture

In order to better understand the exact morphology of these skulls it was necessary to perform a computer tomography scan to be able to capture a 3D model of the skull’s design. This process has been used in the past on sharks but only for the specific species or taxonomic group being studied. It is simply a matter of extreme effort to perform these scans on every shark species but that is exactly what the researchers, specifically a Mr Pepijn Kamminga, wishes to do. By borrowing specimens from museum collections (sometimes just the head) 75% of all currently existing shark families have been successfully scanned and filed in a cohesive library. One of the specific features this study wished to elucidate was the importance of the lower jaw when it came to the sharks feeding. The lower jaw is the closing aspect of the shark’s mouth and also demonstrates some of the greatest variation between species. Overall the scope of this undertaking and the work that has gone into it should not be overlooked, it will be possible for researchers to pull up a detailed 3D model of any of 122 shark species and hopefully even more in the future.

Paper links: X-ray computed tomography library of shark anatomy and lower jaw surface models

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