It took nearly a decade, but Molly Sampson found what she had been searching for her whole life.
It happened Christmas morning when the 9-year-old girl was out searching for shark teeth with family in Calvert Beach, Maryland.
It was there Molly waded into the cold waters of the Chesapeake Bay and pulled out the once-in-a-lifetime find: a 5-inch-long megalodon tooth.
“She was over-the-moon excited,” Molly’s mother, Alicia Sampson, told USA TODAY on Wednesday. “It was something she dreamt about finding. She’s been shark tooth hunting since age 1 when she would crawl along the beach.”
A homeschooled student from Prince Frederick, Molly has collected more than 400 shark teeth since before she could walk. But the discovery marked the fourth grader’s biggest find yet.
Stephen Godfrey, curator of paleontology at the Calvert Marine Museum, where the girl took her find, confirmed that the tooth belonged to the extinct shark megalodon (Otodus megalodon), which disappeared millions of years ago.
The meg is believed to be one of the largest predators that ever lived until its extinction, and scientists believe it could have grown 50 to 60 feet long. For a long time, scientists believed the megalodon’s closest relative was the great white shark, but research shows it is most closely related to the mako shark, according to the Smithsonian.
Chest waders for Christmas
Last year, Alicia Sampson said, Molly and her 17-year-old sister, Natalie, asked for insulated chest waders as a Christmas present for shark-tooth hunting.
The siblings’ wish came true when they opened gifts Christmas morning, and as soon as they finished breakfast, the girls and their father, Bruce Sampson, headed to nearby Calvert Cliffs.
While wading in the cold, knee-deep water, Molly said, she noticed the tooth, reached both arms into the water and grabbed it.
“I was so surprised,” Molly told USA TODAY. “I thought I was dreaming. I didn’t think it was real.”
Rare size for megalodon tooth
Molly said she put the tooth into a beach bag and went to the museum to have experts check it out.
“They were really excited,” Molly said.
“Megalodon teeth are found on a fairly regular basis along Calvert Cliffs. However, one that large is rare indeed. Perhaps a few each year,” Godfrey said.
Because of its large teeth, experts believe it feasted on whales, large fish and probably other sharks. From the size of the tooth, Godfrey said, it would have come from a fish 45 to 50 feet long. He also said that based on where the tooth was found and the age of the sediments from which it most likely originated, the tooth probably about 15 million years old.
As she hunted for oyster mushrooms in the woods near her home Wednesday morning during a school field trip with her mother and sister, Molly explained she wasn’t the first in her family to find a massive shark tooth.
Her father, who has been fossil hunting in the area along Chesapeake Bay since he was a child, also snagged one a few years back.
But hers was “much bigger.”
“His was 3 inches. It’s like a baby,” Molly said, laughing.
Molly said she plans to keep the ginormous relic in her collection and maybe one day put it in a shadow box.
In the meantime, she said, she’s considering becoming a paleontologist when she grows up, or “something involving working with animals.”
Natalie Neysa Alund covers trending news for USA TODAY. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rare megalodon tooth found by young girl at Maryland’s Calvert Beach