Saturday, March 15, 2008

Fossil of relative to the Great White shark was discovered on a beach

Grant Johnson went to Egmont Key on Sunday with his mother, his aunt and two grandparents, hoping to pick up a few shells and fly his kite.

Instead, the 9-year-old happened on a remarkable find: a 5-inch-long, 4 1/2-inch-wide shark tooth.
Walking down the windy beach, he first thought it was a piece of driftwood poking out of the sand, but when he picked it up, it was much too heavy. A ranger on the island told him it belonged to a megalodon, a huge, extinct relative of the great white shark.

"It's probably been on the beach for a few million years," Grant said.

The tooth's white enamel had turned gray. There were a few chips from ages spent in the sea. But there was no denying it was a shark tooth.

Megalodons could grow as long as 60 feet and heavy as 77 tons by some accounts - more than twice as long as a great white shark. They became extinct about 2-million years ago.

Bob Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory, said these teeth turn up in "reasonably good numbers" on the southwest coast of Florida. What makes one tooth more valuable than another is the extent to which they remain intact.

"This isn't like the Hope Diamond of shark teeth," said Hueter, who had not seen the tooth itself. "They're probably worth more as a family curio and heirloom than if they sold it."

The biggest ever

The largest megalodon tooth ever found was 6.75 inches long, according to the Web site of the Florida Museum of Natural History, which has assembled a popular megalodon exhibit. The megalodon had 46 front row teeth, 24 in the upper jaw and 22 in the lower and a typical shark has 6 rows of teeth, the Web site says.

Maybe it would inspire Grant to grow up and study sharks, Hueter suggested.

Sunday's find made Grant an instant celebrity among the handful of visitors to Egmont Key.
"He's the talk of the island here right now," said his mother, Susan Johnson.

"It's the coolest thing I've ever seen," said Susie Tranchilla, who took the same ferry as Grant and his family.

Dressed in a blue fleece, long pants and hiking boots, Grant showed the giant tooth to dozens of curious people. The fourth-grader at Palm Harbor Montessori Academy said he is learning about shells in school. His father keeps a large salt-water aquarium at home so he is already inclined toward this type of thing.

Just the day before he saw some megalodon teeth for sale at John's Pass, but they were not as large as this one.

The discovery will go in a display case at home, Grant said. It will be a fun memory of a day at the beach, but it's also a little bit scary.

"If these still existed," Grant said, looking at the water. "I wouldn't swim."

Jonathan Abel can be reached at or 727 445-4157.

By the numbers

6.75 The length in inches of the longest known megalodontooth.

46 The number of front row teeth, 24 in the upper jaw and 22 in the lower. Most sharks have at least six rows of teeth.

276 The number of teeth megalodonhad at any given time.

60 The length in feet a megalodon could reach. It could weigh 77 tons.

2 million years. How long ago megalodon is thought to have vanished from oceans.

Source: Florida Museum of Natural History

Link to a Megalodon exhibit created by the Florida Museum of Natural History.


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