Huge Tooth From 23ft Great White Shark Found on North Carolina Beach

A married couple have found a "massive" fossilized great white tooth on a North Carolina beach that came from a huge shark.

Experts told Newsweek that the white shark in question could have measured more than 20 feet in length.

A great white shark and a tooth
Split image of a great white shark and the fossilized tooth found by the McLambs. Great whites are large marine predators found around the world in temperate and subtropical waters. iStock/Leah McLamb

Avid shark-tooth hunters Leah and Josh McLamb, from Greensboro, North Carolina, made the find two weeks ago during a visit to their favorite fossil-finding spot.

"We drove down [there] with the hopes of finding a big one," Leah McLamb told Newsweek.

Great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) are large marine predators found around the world in temperate and subtropical waters.

The largest great whites recorded in the modern era have measured up to around 20 feet in length. But there is evidence that larger individuals of this species existed in the past.

Leah McLamb, 25, said that she and her husband—aged 32—had a long history of searching for shark teeth.

"We both hunted for teeth as children and now we hunt for teeth together," Leah said. "We honeymooned in Venice, Florida, because it is known for being the shark-tooth capital of the U.S. and hunted for teeth there."

On their latest excursion, the 25-year-old said the pair began their tooth hunt as soon as they arrived at the beach at around 11 p.m.

"It was freezing outside, so we bundled up in our coveralls, face masks, muck boots, and winter coats," Leah said.

"About an hour into our hunt, we were walking side by side with our flashlights when we saw the giant great white tooth at the same time," she added. "My husband was quicker and fell to the ground to grab it. We could not believe our eyes. We were ecstatic! Neither of us had ever seen a tooth this big. This is what we came for."

The pair measured the jet-black tooth, finding it to be around 2.45 inches long. White shark teeth of this size are rarely discovered. The largest great white shark teeth measure up to around 3 inches in length.

Fossilized great white shark tooth being measured
Leah McLamb demonstrating the size of the great white shark tooth. The tooth measures around 2.45 inches in length. Leah McLamb

After finding the tooth, the pair posted images of the tooth on several Facebook groups and Reddit, receiving an enthusiastic response. Some social-media users even wrote that they thought the tooth belonged to a megalodon shark rather than a great white, given its large size.

Megalodon is a shark species thought to have gone extinct around 3.6 million years ago. This powerful predator was the largest shark to have ever lived. It could have grown to between 50 feet and 60 feet in length, according to the Natural History Museum in London.

Megalodon teeth can grow up to around 7 inches in length, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History. A more common size is between 3 and 5 inches, which is larger than even the biggest great white teeth.

Leah said the pair had a good idea of what megalodon teeth looked like, and were confident they had found a large great white tooth.

"We have several small- to decent-sized great white teeth that we have found in North Carolina at our favorite spot to compare the giant one to," she said.

Married couple on a beach
Josh McLamb, 32, and Leah McLamb, 25, are a married couple from Greensboro, North Carolina. The pair are avid shark-tooth hunters. Leah McLamb

Several dive charters and other social-media groups dedicated to sharks also identified the tooth as that of a great white, confirming the pair's suspicions.

Joshua Moyer, an authority on white shark teeth affiliated with Yale University and the Atlantic Shark Institute, told Newsweek this identification was correct. As did Jonathan Geisler—associate professor of anatomy at New York Institute of Technology. Geisler has conducted research exploring fossilized remains from the coastal areas of the Carolinas.

"This is definitely the tooth of a great white shark, Carcharodon carcharias," Moyer said. "By great white standards, this is a big tooth. Nowadays, you'd be hard pressed to find a modern white shark tooth this big. Large teeth come from large sharks, and sadly, large adult white sharks—measuring greater than 18 feet in length—aren't as common as they once were."

It is not possible to determine a precise length for the shark from which this tooth came, based solely on the size of the fossil. But Moyer said it could "easily" have measured 20 feet in length at least.

Fossilized shark tooth found at the beach
The tooth pictured in Leah McLamb's hand. It is large by the standards of today's great white sharks. Large adult white sharks—measuring greater than 18 feet in length—are not as common as they once were. Leah McLamb

"There isn't a perfect correlation between tooth size and shark length that holds up across all members of the species," Moyer added. "That said, we can get in the ballpark based on the height of the crown. I'm confident that the tooth came from a shark between 18 feet and 22 feet in length, likely at the higher end of that range."

Geisler also provided a similar estimate, saying the shark in question could have measured up to around 23 feet in length.

"This specimen is very large as compared to individuals alive today, but similar in size to many fossil specimens of Carcharodon carcharias," Geisler said.

The scarcity of very large white sharks today is due, in large part, to fishing pressure placed on the species for much of the last 50 years, according to Moyer.

"Large fish—sharks included—tend to be more sought-after by anglers, especially those looking for trophies. Thus, many of the large white sharks have been fished out," Moyer said. "While the population of white sharks around North America is slowly recovering due to conservation efforts designed to protect them and their prey, this is a slow-growing shark."

Most experts agree that white sharks do not even reach sexual maturity until they are 10 to 16 years old. At this point, they measure "only" around 12 feet or so in length.

"Given time and continued conservation efforts, we may see the eventual return of very large, healthy white sharks—there are still a few of them out there, occasionally documented by ecotourists—but the recovery of the species continues," Moyer said.

The tooth that the couple found is black because of the addition of minerals in the process of fossilization, which can take at least 10,000 years, Geisler said. The specimen is potentially millions of years old, although its exact age is not clear.

"The dark color indicates that fossilization likely occurred in sediment with low oxygen values," Geisler said. "The color does not indicate age, but the modern great white emerged about 6 to 5 million years ago."

North Carolina is well known for producing fossil shark teeth. Along the coast of the state, it is not uncommon to find fossil teeth that are around 2 to 3 million years old, Moyer said.

Leah McLamb said she had created necklaces with previous shark-teeth finds and plans to do the same with this one.

"It will definitely be a statement necklace," she said.