1/28/19 ABSS teacher names new shark species after ’80s game
An artist’s rendering of what Galagadon may have looked like, done by Velizar Simeonovski of Chicago’s Field Museum.
ABSS teacher names new shark species after ’80s game
By Jessica Williams, The Times-News 1/28/19
Reprinted with permission.
Woody Marshall / Times-News
GRAHAM — Imagine getting to name a species that lived more than 65 million years ago. Nate Bourne did just that.
The Alamance County middle school teacher is credited with naming Galagadon, a new species of prehistoric shark discovered by N.C. State University lecturer and N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences research affiliate Terry Gates.
Bourne met Gates, whom he calls “Bucky,” as a Kenan Fellow working with the Museum of Natural Sciences in 2015.
The pair remained close friends over the years, which led to the fateful day when Gates pulled up photos of his most recent discovery: tiny shark teeth embedded in the same rock that once held Sue, the world’s most famous and complete T. rex fossil.
Bourne was immediately reminded of a classic 1980s arcade game he’d played with his cousin as a kid.
“He pulled [the photos] up in his drive and was like, ‘Hey, right now I’m searching for a name.’ And I was like, ‘That looks like Space Invaders or Galaga,’ and started pointing at specific ones, and he said, ‘Galagadon,’ and it kind of went from there,” Bourne said. “He acknowledged that I had the idea for the name in his paper, which was really cool, but I did not find the tooth or identify the species or anything like that.”
Piecing Galagadon together
A cousin of the infamous Megalodon, which could grow to 60 feet long, Galagadon was a much smaller shark — estimated to measure 12 to 18 inches long. Its tiny teeth, which are less than one millimeter across, were good for eating fish, snails and crawdads.
According to Gates, the teeth were found in sediment from what’s now South Dakota, which was covered in “forests, swamps and winding rivers” 67 million years ago when Galagadon lived.
Though he discovered the teeth a few years ago, the paper for which he’s the lead author, “New sharks and other Chondrichthyans from the latest Maastrichtian (Late Cretaceous) of North America,” wasn’t published in the Journal of Paleontology until January of this year.
Analyzing any fossil is often a long process, but sharks present a unique challenge, Bourne explained, in that all that remains are their teeth.
Gates based his findings on 12 original dental character traits combined with 136 morphological traits he’d gathered from a prior study of both prehistoric and existing sharks’ teeth.
On Jan. 21, Galagadon was introduced to the public, and Bourne’s name suddenly appeared in a scientific journal.
Making science accessible
Submitted By Terry Gates
The shark’s full name, Galagadon nordquistae, honors both Bourne and Karen Nordquist, a volunteer who helped Gates sift nearly two tons of dirt to collect more 24 teeth.
“I love that it shows the accessibility of science. … Both pieces of that name are attributed to someone who helped with the process,” Bourne said. “And this is a lot of what Bucky and I talk about, specifically, when we go talk to teachers is that there’s this impression that there’s this ‘Big S’ science, and to enter into the process, you have to have years and years of book study and field study and you have to be accepted … but to assist with the process, to be in science, it is accessible for anybody. To look at the natural world and study it is a human trait. How do we break down the barriers that society has created to keep some people feeling like they can’t participate in that process?”
Bourne is an academically-or-intellectually-gifted specialist for Hawfields and Graham middle schools, but spent 15 years as a social studies and science teacher at Broadview Middle School prior to that.
He and Gates have worked together for the last four years to boost students’ confidence in their own scientific abilities by allowing middle schoolers to collect and analyze shark teeth that are then used in Gates’ research at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.
They sift, find, ask questions, and even draw renderings of what the shark may have looked like.
“You’re not playing science at that point. You are a scientist,” Bourne said.