Megalodon: Prehistoric Tooth From World's Biggest Shark Discovered on North Carolina Beach

A North Carolina man has found a massive tooth belonging to the megalodon shark—a prehistoric ocean predator that went extinct between 2.6 and 3.6 million years ago.

Harvey Wall, who shared images of the discovery to Facebook, said that he found the tooth at Ocean Isle Beach in the state last Friday. It measured in at more than five inches long. One image of the tooth, which once belonged to the biggest shark species to have ever lived, shows it is easily bigger than the man's entire palm.

"I was surprised [it was there]," Wall told WECT. "We were looking for seashells and walking our dogs. I could only see the black part in low tide. I kicked it and it flipped over, exposing the whole tooth." He said he intends to donate the tooth to the local Museum of Coastal Carolina, located at the same beach.

In 2013, the megalodon shark tooth became an official state symbol of North Carolina, which has become known as a "hot spot" for the fossils, ABC 11 reported last year. "The teeth have been found all over the world but not in the concentrations we're finding here," said local diving expert Chris Slog.

According to Emma Bernard, a curator at London's National History Museum, some of the earliest fossils linked to the megalodon shark have been dated to more than 20 million years ago. Based on its tooth size, scientists estimate that it could grow to be up to 60-feet long—which is vastly bigger than a great white. Its jaws were likely lined with hundreds of teeth and big enough to eat two adult humans side-by-side.

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Britannica states that megalodon (Carcharodon megalodon) translates to "giant tooth." Fossils from the species have been found in every continent—except Antarctica. It likely preyed on large whales and, in recent years, has become the focus of conspiracy theories and Hollywood movies.

In April, a teenager found a megalodon tooth in the sand at North Topsail Beach in North Carolina. "I am looking around and I see something buried in the sand. I uncovered it and it keeps coming, and it's this big tooth, and then I hold it up and I'm screaming for my mom," teen Avery Fauth told WECT at the time, which published images of the discovery. The family also found teeth belonging to great white sharks.

In February, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh suggested the megalodon went extinct much earlier than thought. Earlier research suggested the giant shark went extinct 2.6 million years ago. University experts said they now believe most fossils are dated to the end of the early Pliocene epoch, 3.6 million years ago.

Vertebrate paleontologist Robert Boessenecker, of the College of Charleston in South Carolina, explained in the media release at the time: "We… found that most of the [assumed] dates had several problems—fossils with dates too young or imprecise, fossils that have been misidentified, or old dates that have since been refined by improvements in geology; and we now know the specimens are much younger.

"After making extensive adjustments [and] statistically re-analyzing the data, we found that the extinction of O. megalodon must have happened at least 1 million years earlier than previously determined."

In recent years, some TV documentaries and niche YouTube commentators have speculated without evidence that the ancient apex predator could still be lurking deep in our oceans—but this remains extremely unlikely, Bernard said. "If an animal as big as megalodon still lived in the oceans we would know about it," she noted on the National History Museum website.

Carcharocles megalodon
One of the world's largest set of shark jaws comprised of about 180 fossil teeth from the prehistoric species, Carcharocles megalodon, which grew to the size of a school bus, is displayed at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino September 30, 2009 in Nevada. Ethan Miller/Getty