In order to understand what ecosystems must have looked like in the past ecologists must be innovative in how they use what little historical records exist. This lack of records is especially dramatic for marine systems where taxonomic and technological barriers to clear data recording limit historical data, yet it is precisely these systems that are under numerous threats. Thus in order to establish historical baselines by which to compare the current status of coral reefs, as well as evaluate the effectiveness of conservation measures, we must seek out all available data types, even if they are non-traditional.
To help characerize the diversity of sharks present in the Central Pacific during the last part of the 19th century and early 20th century we present data from a novel source - the shark tooth weapons of the Gilbertese people. Because these people lacked metal working technology, they used shark teeth to create the cutting edges of their weapons, and since shark species can be identified by their teeth, these weapons present an opportunity to partially reconstruct the apex predator community that existed on reefs 120 years ago.
Our results indicated that the majority of weapons were made using four species of sharks. Of the total number of species used at least two are currently not recognized as being present in the republic of Kiribati. By using non-traditional sources of ecological data we are able to therefore a shift in the apex predator community of these central Pacific reefs.