GREENVILLE — Area residents enjoyed their very own live, in-person encounter with “Jaws” at Shawnee Prairie Nature Center Saturday.
Noted shark expert Dr. Charles “Chuck” Ciampaglio, doctor of paleontology and professor of earth and environmental sciences at Wright State University-Lake Campus, was on hand to gave a talk on today’s ocean-dwelling predators as well as their shark ancestors.
One of the only scientists in the United States actively studying prehistoric sharks in North America, Ciampaglio and his students have conducted paleontological digs from Wyoming to the Carolinas.
He has also been featured on nationally televised programs on the Discovery and National Geographic Channels.
Ciampaglio is an expert on Megalodon, a prehistoric shark which lived 2 to 15 million years ago. The largest known shark to ever live, reaching more than 60 feet in length, its teeth were the size of a human hand and its mouth large enough to swallow a small boat.
Ciampaglio brought with him specimens of shark remains — both large and small, prehistoric and modern — including fossilized teeth and jaws.
During his presentation, Ciampaglio dispelled many commonly-held myths about sharks, a species which he says is “continually evolving.”
While many believe all sharks are ferocious, meat-eating predators, that is not always the case, as some sharks are filter feeding, meaning they eat by filtering sea water for small ocean organisms.
And though many think shark skeletons are completely made of cartilage, this is also an untrue characterization.
“They do have a lot of cartilage, but it’s not like the cartilage that we think about in our bodies,” he said. “This cartilage is hardened up with minerals, and in some cases, it’s basically ossified into bone. So a lot of the sharks that are alive today have bony vertebrae, and those preserve very well.”
Ciampaglio also pointed out an interesting similarity between sharks and land mammals.
“Sharks have internal fertilization. Sharks invented that. They invented sex. And, they invented the live birth. They did this hundreds of millions of years before the first reptile or first mammal walked on the earth,” he said.
When asked about peoples’ fascination with sharks, and especially gigantic, prehistoric sharks like Megalodon, Ciampaglio said, laughingly, “People really seem to like things they are afraid of.”
Locally, Ciampaglio calls Darke County part of a “bubble” when it comes to prehistoric shark remains.
“For whatever reason, nobody really understands it, this part of Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, doesn’t have any [prehistoric remains],” he said, noting that shark remains can be found, however, in Columbus and parts east, as well as in northern Ohio, toward the Great Lakes.
Hannah Linebaugh, naturalist at Shawnee Prairie and a former student of Ciampaglio, said she was very excited to have him speak.
“We were hoping to get him in sooner, but it didn’t work out quite as quick as I planned. But I was so excited when he wanted to come down here, to have him here locally and show what Darke County has to offer,” she said.
Ciampaglio appreciated the invitation and enjoyed his time speaking at the center.
“This is really nice,” he said. “I was really impressed actually. It’s a nice center. [I’m] really surprised you have so many parks here.”
For more information on events being held at Shawnee Prairie and other Darke County Parks, visit www.darkecountyparks.org/parks.php.