In DepthPaleontology

Ethical controversy swirls around shark fossil from Mexico

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Science  23 Apr 2021:
Vol. 372, Issue 6540, pp. 332-333
DOI: 10.1126/science.372.6540.332

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Summary

About 90 million years ago, an unusual shark cruised the shallow sea covering what is now Vallecillo, in the Mexican state of Nuevo León. After the animal died, conditions on the sea floor were just right to preserve its soft tissue and long, winglike fins. Described last month in Science, the shark, named Aquilolamna milarcae, made headlines around the world for its surprising similarities to today's plankton-eating manta rays. But for some paleontologists, the publication—by a team of mostly European scientists—also raises thorny questions about the role of private collections in their field and lingering scientific colonialism. The paper originally said the specimen was purchased by a collector, which is illegal under Mexican law. And a public museum founded by the collector, where the fossil was said to be accessible for study by other researchers, is not scheduled to open until later this year. Science published an Erratum last week, indicating the current location of the fossil. The controversy over A. milarcae comes at a moment when some paleontologists are pushing to eliminate the remnants of colonial practices, an issue that inflames the debate over the paper. In Mexico, paleontologists say the paper has served as a wake-up call.

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