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Tooth Scary! Seal-eating Shark's Flying Tooth Caught on Film

<p>One lucky wildlife photographer caught a flying shark tooth on film just as the fish losing it was chomping into dinner.</p>
Shark Loses a Tooth
The sharks tooth flying into the water as it catches a seal in waters near Cape Town, South Africa.Caters News Agency

Sharks shed teeth like cats shed hair. With several rows of replacements at the ready, they can lose thousands during their lifetimes, which wind up littering the ocean floor, stashed away in museum drawers, or lining the shelves of tourist shops.

But it's not every day that you see a shark tooth snapping off mid-bite.

Wildlife photographer David Jenkins caught a flying shark tooth on film just as the great white chomped into dinner — fresh-caught baby seal! — off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa.

"The shark and seal disappeared back under water and we saw neither again," Jenkins, who took the photo in August last year, told NBC News in a Facebook message.

Sharks have evolved a fantastic range of tooth shapes, to feast on a fantastic range of sea critters. Among the more bizarre, the shark-like helicoprion that lived 270 million years ago had teeth arranged in a spiral pattern — like the spikes of a buzz-saw — in its lower jaw.

Shark skeletons are made of cartilage, which doesn’t preserve as well as bone does, so shark teeth are often the only traces of the fish left behind, preserved in million-year old sea sediment.

Paleontologists rely on the fossilized chompers to flesh out a picture of age-old shark lives.

For example, when paleontologists spotted three Planohybodus gnashers sunk in the shell of an ammonite fossil, they revised their guess that the 7-foot swimmer’s diet included only fish.

Jenkins was also behind the lens in July, when another seal made a lucky getaway from a breaching great (and late) white, near Seal Island off the coast of Cape Town.