On Oct. 5, researchers with the Exploration Vessel Nautilus team found a massive tooth that they believe could be linked to the prehistoric megalodon.
The fossil was found while the team was on an expedition to Johnston Atoll with Pacific Islands U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Johnston Atoll, or Kalama Atoll, is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a wildlife refuge. It is considered one of the most isolated atolls in the world and is a part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, 495,189 square miles of open ocean in the central Pacific.
The ROV Hercules scooped up the tooth, which was trapped in a ferromanganese coating, marine mineral deposits mainly containing iron and manganese oxide, while taking nodule samples for the expedition over 10,000 feet below the ocean surface on an unnamed sea mount.
These nodules form in very deep water on the seafloor from the precipitation of minerals out of the seawater. They are considered one of the slowest geological processes in the known world.
“Nodules usually require a nucleus to grow around, which could be a very small sedimentary fragment or something as spectacular as a shark’s tooth,” said a March 2016 article from the Natural History Museum of London.
According to the museum, a manganese nodule like the one found around the shark’s tooth can form at a rate of 0.2 centimeters per every million years, meaning this shark tooth could give researchers insight into the ocean from millions of years ago.
“We believe it belonged to the infamous extinct #megalodon, but only time (and further lab analysis) will tell!” said Nautilus Live on Facebook.
The megalodon is considered to be one of the largest predators to swim in the ocean. The earliest fossils of the apex predator date back 20 million years ago, and the shark dominated the ocean for 13 million years until it became extinct 3.6 million years ago, according to the Natural History Museum.
Estimates theorize that the shark could grow between 50-60 feet in length, with teeth reaching up to 7 inches in length.
Its name, megalodon, actually means “large tooth,” which is rather apt for a fish this size.
Researchers believe the shark was adapted to warm tropical and subtropical waters around the globe; teeth have been found on every continent except Antarctica.
The shark is most commonly depicted as a large great white shark, but new research suggests that is incorrect.
According to the museum, the shark had a much shorter nose and a flatter, squarish jaw compared to the great white shark, and a lot like the modern blue shark, it probably had extra long pectoral fins to support its weight and size.
Researchers do not believe the shark still swims the depths of the oceans in obscurity for a couple of reasons. It would need large prey like whales and other sharks to sustain itself, leaving some kind of evidence. In addition, the shark could not tolerate the ocean’s cold depths where it would need to be to hide.
But they left behind many teeth to study and a chilling tale for ocean explorers.
Doctors Katie Kelley and Rebecca Robinson from the University of Rhode Island Marine Geological Samples Laboratory spotted the fossil after it was removed from a rocky coating. They will continue to analyze the sample for further identification.
“The expeditions on Nautilus are only the beginning of exploration as samples are processed and analyzed for years after the ship returns to port,” said the Facebook post.