When Miami fisherman Tim O’Neill went fishing off Key Biscayne one morning in search of swordfish he returned with a much rarer specimen than he had in mind. When he finally reeled in the big chunk of ocean bottom he realized he had hooked a giant tooth.
“I couldn’t grab the rock fast enough,” said O’Neill, captain of the F/V Cacique.
What he reeled in that day from 1800 feet below was an exceptional find – a crustal rock from the ocean floor with a large fossilized shark tooth jutting out. He contacted UM Rosenstiel School scientists to help him identify his unusual find.
According to Rosenstiel School scientists the fossilized upper front tooth encased in rock he caught is from the now extinct relative of the great white shark, Carcharodon megalodon, which is known for its “mega teeth” and estimated to be 10-15 million years old.
“The great white shark that exists today is more closely related to the prehistoric Mako shark than the megalodon,” says Rosenstiel research assistant professor Neil Hammerschlag and director of the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program.
Rosenstiel School marine geology professor Gregor Eberli examined the rock first hand to discover that the black-colored megalodon tooth was well preserved in the limestone rock coated with a mixture of iron and manganese.
O’Neill caught his one-of-a kind find about 10 miles off the coast of Miami in an area known as the Miami Terrace. University of Miami scientists conducting an echo-sounding survey first discovered the region in 1958. The area is of interest to scientists for its mix of geological and biological finds.
“At approximately 1800 feet depth, the Miami Terrace is a large, current-swept submarine plateau whose flank down to the floor of the Straits of Florida at 2600 feet is covered with 100 foot ridges, which provides habitat for deep-water corals, sponges, lobsters and fish,” said Eberli.
Tim O’Neill pulled the rock off the edge of the Terrace. He is planning to keep his million-year-old ocean treasure at home as a reminder that great whites once roamed the Straits of Florida.
— RSMAS Communications
— Photos: Diana Udel