Molly Sampson has been searching for shark teeth since she could walk, but the megalodon tooth is her biggest find yet.
On Christmas morning 2022, nine-year-old Molly Sampson got the presents she had asked for: insulated waders and fossil sifters for shark tooth hunting. That same day, the young aspiring paleontologist found a 5-inch-long Otodus megalodon tooth in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
“I went closer, and in my head, I was like, ‘Oh, my, that is the biggest tooth I’ve ever seen!'” Molly exclaimed in an interview with NPR. “I reached in and grabbed it, and dad said I was shrieking.”
According to the Washington Post, hunting fossils is one of the Sampson family’s favorite activities. After Molly and her older sister Natalie had received their waders and fossil sifters for Christmas, their father, Bruce, took them to the Chesapeake Bay near the Calvert Cliffs to look for shark teeth.
Molly announced that she was “looking for a Meg,” according to the BBC, and then waded fearlessly into the water despite the frigid 10-degree weather. Before long, that’s exactly what Molly found — a megalodon tooth.
“She told me she was wading in knee deep water when she saw it and dove in to get it,” Molly’s mother, Alicia, explained to the BBC. “She said she got her arms all wet, but it was so worth it.”
Alicia added: “She has always wanted to find a ‘Meg’, but for whatever reason, she spoke it into existence on Christmas morning.”
As the Washington Post reports, the Sampson family took Molly’s find to the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, Maryland. The staff there knew the family well, as they’ve shared other fossil finds with the museum before. But the shark tooth that Molly had found, according to the curator of paleontology Stephen Godfrey, was a “once-in-a-lifetime kind of find.”
“It’s a spectacular specimen,” Godfrey told NPR. “It’s one of the larger ones that’s probably ever been found along Calvert Cliffs.”
Godfrey determined that Molly’s megalodon tooth was approximately 15 million years old, and probably sat in the upper jaw of a megalodon that was between 45 and 50 feet long. NPR reports that the megalodon would have used its impressive teeth to hunt prey like whales and dolphins.
“It basically evolved those kinds of teeth so that it could cut out pieces, just like great white sharks do,” Godfrey explained. He added: “They sort of chomp the carcass of their prey.”
Godfrey told the Washington Post that megalodon teeth are found on a “fairly regular basis” near the Calvert Cliffs though rarely as large as the megalodon tooth that Molly Sampson found.
“People should not get the impression that teeth like this one are common along Calvert Cliffs,” he told the BBC. “And [Molly] didn’t have to dig into the cliffs to find the tooth, it was out in the water.”
For now, Molly plans to keep the megalodon tooth among the others in her collection. Though she’s found multiple shark teeth before, the newest one dwarfs all the others. And despite its rarity, Molly has no plans sell the tooth.
“I am sure she will always keep it with her — to her, this tooth is priceless!” Alicia Sampson told the Washington Post.
Indeed, the greatest prize for the Sampson family seems to be how Molly’s story has inspired other young aspiring paleontologists. The Washington Post reports that Molly hopes that it will show others “how fun it is to explore” and Alicia told NPR that recent emails suggest that it’s done exactly that.
“It’s kind of cool that she was motivating other kids to get outside and explore,” Alicia said.
After reading about the nine-year-old girl who found a 15-million-year-old megalodon tooth, see how a 12-year-old boy in Michigan stumbled upon a 12,000-year-old mastodon tooth. Or, learn about some of Earth’s most incredible prehistoric animals.