Molly Sampson’s favorite Christmas gift was the one she went out and got that morning: a 5-inch Otodus megalodon tooth from a shark that lived millions of years ago.
A 9-year-old Maryland girl and her older sister Natalie asked for and got secluded waders and fossil sieves so they could hunt for shark teeth far out in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay near Calvert Cliffs, recalls Molly’s mother, Alicia Sampson.
They immediately donned their new waders and went out fishing with their dad, Bruce Sampson, in the 10-degree weather around 9:30 a.m. The tide was low, which meant they could go out further to find fossils. Molly, who hopes to be a paleontologist when she grows up, announces that she will be searching for Meg – a nickname for a huge Miocene shark. She always wanted to find one.
Less than half an hour later, in knee-deep water, she looked outside and saw something strange.
I got closer, and I said in my head, “Oh, that’s the biggest tooth I’ve ever seen!” Molly said excitedly during an interview on Wednesday. “I reached inside and grabbed him, and my dad said I was screaming.”
Alicia says Bruce has been fossil hunting since he was little, and has taken his daughters since they were very young. Alicia says he also dreams of finding giant teeth, but his larger find—about 3 inches long—looks like a “baby tooth” compared to Molly’s.
Just over a week after Molly’s discovery, the family took the fossil to the Calvert Maritime Museum in Solomons, Maryland, to confirm its identity.
Stephen Godfrey, curator of paleontology at the museum and Molly’s former science teacher at Bible School, says the staff were busy taking apart the shark exhibit when they came by.
It wasn’t the first treasure that the Samsons took to him, but it was the biggest.
“It’s an amazing specimen,” Godfrey says. “It is one of the largest species that may have ever been found along Calvert Cliffs” and may be a “once-in-a-lifetime find”.
While Calvert Cliffs is famous for producing fossils, huge teeth of this size are hard to come by, and none in the Calvert Maritime Museum’s collection are more than six inches long.
Godfrey says the tooth came from the upper left jaw of a megalodon that was probably 45 to 50 feet long and lived about 15 million years ago. The shark – a large animal, which means that it cannot swallow its prey whole – whether it is searching for and actively hunting whales and dolphins with Serrated specialized teeth.
“It basically evolved those kinds of teeth so it could cut off pieces, just like great white sharks do,” says Godfrey.. “They kind of gnaw off the carcass of their prey,” rather than swallow it whole.
Godfrey says he hopes Molly’s big discovery story will help inspire other kids to take an interest in science and explore the natural world.
And based on the emails her family has received so far, she appears to be doing just that, her mom says.
“It’s great that she was motivating the other kids to get out and explore,” Alicia says.
Molly has already started digging for fossils again several times since Christmas, adding to her collection of over 400 teeth as the Megalodon tooth still remains. With her new go-to, she’s not going to stop anytime soon.
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