Something nefarious is afoot. At a secret location in a fossiliferous region of a world heritage site in Western Australia, the tooth of a Megalodon has been thieved in what appears to have been a planned operation.
As reported by The Guardian, the tooth was one of several found along the UNESCO-listed Ningaloo Coast, located in the north-western section of the state of Western Australia. The plan was to turn this particular tooth – a notably intact fossil compared to its dental compatriots – into an educational exhibit by carefully extracting it and encasing it in glass, but sadly this will now not come to pass.
Seeing as the site itself is incredibly remote – tourists are not permitted to visit it, and it’s rarely visited at all – it’s almost certain that an opportunistic criminal didn’t just stumble across it by chance. They would have had to possess prior knowledge of its location, which either suggests some subterfuge is at play here, or someone innocently but erroneously told a mischievous party about its location.
The whale-consuming Megalodon shark, which lived between 16 and 2.6 million years ago, was a veritable beast. One of the largest marine apex predators in Earth’s history, it weighed at least 50 tonnes (55 tons) and reached minimum lengths of 15.2 meters (50 feet).
Its teeth are certainly impressive, reaching diagonal lengths of up to 17.8 centimeters (7 inches) – in fact, its gnashers are so idiosyncratic that that’s what its species name means: “big tooth”. Its bite force exceeded that of the far more ancient Tyrannosaurus rex.
Although all fossils provide valuable data, those belonging to the dominating Carcharocles megalodon are arguably of special interest to those in the field, and each new discovery is indubitably a treasure trove of information waiting to be decoded.
There’s some evidence out there that its extinction allowed baleen whales – which it preyed on – to finally grow to their now-massive sizes, but there are large blank spaces in our knowledge of its paleoecological habits.
It’s also worth noting that it’s not entirely clear what led to its demise, although a recent study suggested that declining biodiversity levels driven by global environmental changes ultimately killed off the king of the oceans. As this has clear implications for today’s populous oceans besieged by the effects of rapid climate change, the megafaunal Megalodon’s history informs us of Earth’s future.
In sum, Megalodon fossils belong in a museum, or in the hands of researchers, not in the paws of thieves. It’s a deep shame that such a valuable item was removed from the site in this way. As reported by BBC News, the value of the tooth isn’t likely to even be that high, which makes its theft an empty gesture regardless of your perspective.