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Sharks are among the most primitive of fish. They first appeared in the fossil record almost 400 million years ago. The shark differs from other fish in that it has no bone in its skeletal structure. Its frame is composed of a cartilaginous material. Usually the teeth are the only hard parts found preserved, although the occasional vertebra has been found ossified. These early sharks resembled modern sharks but were usually much smaller than many today.
Sharks are descendants of the placoderms which lost the power to produce bone and so reverted to producing skeletons of cartilage. Modern sharks first appeared in the Jurassic some 200 million years ago. Most Jurassic sharks were of moderate size, but when the marine reptiles, the mosasaurs and plesiosaurs died out, at the end of the Cretaceous Period, sharks became the dominant animals in the seas. They culminated in the giant of them all, Carcharodon. Carcharodon is a relative of the great white shark which still survives. Great whites today can reach lengths of 40 feet and can have 3-inch teeth. Carcharodon was over 50 feet in length and had 8-inch teeth set in jaws which could be opened to a six-foot span!