Study reveals what contributed to megalodon extinction 0:41
A 9-year-old aspiring paleontologist made the find of a lifetime on Christmas morning: a massive 5-inch tooth from a prehistoric megalodon.
Molly Sampson, a fourth-grader from Prince Frederick, Maryland, made the amazing find on Calvert Beach.
Molly told CNN that she has spent years combing Maryland beaches for shark teeth, inspired by her father's love of fossils.
“They are great because they are so old,” he commented.
Molly's mother, Alicia Sampson, added that her daughter has long harbored a love of exploring the outdoors.
“She loves treasure hunting,” she explained.
Nine-year-old Molly Sampson discovered a huge megalodon tooth over Christmas at Maryland's Calvert Cliffs State Park.
Credit: Alicia Sampson
Maryland's Calvert Cliffs State Park is known as a hotspot for fossil finding, added Alicia Sampson.
For Christmas, Molly asked her parents for cold-water boots so she could search for shark teeth and other fossils in the Chesapeake Bay.
Outfitted with her new gear, she set out at 9:30 am to search for the remains of ancient predators.
“I saw something big and it looked like a shark tooth,” he said.
“We were knee-deep in water.”
She explained that she tried to grab the tooth with a sifting tool, but it was too big.
She was "shocked" when she realized how big the tooth was.
She “she was so excited and surprised”.
Paleontology curator Stephen Godfrey told CNN that Molly's discovery was a "once-in-a-lifetime find."
Credit: Alicia Sampson
The Sampsons took their exciting find to the Calvert Marine Museum, where paleontology curator Stephen Godfrey confirmed their suspicions: It was indeed the tooth of a megalodon, the massive sharks that lived more than 23 million years ago.
Godfrey told CNN that typically only five or six megalodon teeth compare in size to Molly's find along the Calvert Cliffs each year.
“There are people who can search their whole lives and not find a tooth the size that Molly found,” he said.
“This is like a once-in-a-lifetime find.”
Hobbyist fossil hunters typically find about 100 megalodon teeth at Calvert Cliffs per year, he added.
But most of them are much smaller than Molly's huge tooth.
The largest megalodon teeth ever found measure just over 7 inches.
The size of the tooth indicates that this particular megalodon was between 13 and 15 meters long.
Godfrey explained that millions of years ago, the waters of the Calvert Cliffs would have been home to whales and dolphins that would have served as abundant prey for megalodons seeking to eat.
Because sharks replace their teeth throughout their lives, and because teeth are made of tough enamel, they are "by far the most abundant vertebrate fossil."
Megalodons hold a particular fascination for humans because they served the "greatest predator on Earth" for millions of years, he said.
Extinct megalodon was big enough to eat killer whales, scientists say
Both Godfrey and Alicia Sampson said they hope Molly's find will help inspire other children, especially girls, to pursue their scientific interests.
“This will inspire people of all ages, including children, to follow their natural inclination into nature, art music, there are so many possibilities available to us today,” Godfrey said.
Alicia Sampson said children from all over the world have sent Molly letters sharing their excitement about her discovery.
She created an Instagram page to share her daughters' outdoor adventures.
“We really want to reach out to other kids and get them excited about being outside,” she said.
Molly said she hopes to display the huge tooth in a box in her bedroom, and one day hopes to become a paleontologist.