At a length of 70 feet, armed with razor-sharp 7-inch teeth and with the strongest bite force of any known animal to ever roam or swim the Earth, the megalodon was no joke.
With hurricane-force winds that topped out at 75 mph, armed with lethal wind gusts and one of the fastest forward-moving speeds of any tropical system to ever roam the Atlantic, Hurricane Elsa was no joke either.
But beyond their Hollywood names, what could bring these two fantastical beasts together?
Well, days after Elsa’s deadly rampage through the Southeast as a tropical storm, the former hurricane left a parting gift for one beach walker — a 4-inch-long fossilized megalodon tooth.
“It’s something so ancient,” Jacob Danner said in a phone call with AccuWeather. “You pick up something that’s millions of years old from a creature on the planet, and it takes you back to that childlike fascination of dinosaurs and all the mysteries that are only hinted at when we read about them.”
Danner told AccuWeather that he was out on a walk on Fernandino Beach in greater Jacksonville, Fla., when he made the remarkable discovery after Elsa had churned the waters. In the storm’s wake, hidden deposits from eras long ago washed ashore the beaches.
Danner is an avid collector and historian, but refers to himself more as a hobbyist than an expert. In his most fruitful venture, he said he once found 33 different shark teeth in a two-hour period. However, prior to this summer, he had never come across a megalodon tooth since moving to the coastal area last January.
But even more incredible than his post-Elsa megalodon find? It was his second such discovery in less than a month.
Just three weeks earlier, Danner had found his first-ever megalodon tooth, a long-awaited uncovering that he said almost made him feel guilty.
“The first one that I found, I think it was like June 17 or 18, I just froze and looked around like I was walking on the sidewalk and came across a $100 bill,” he said. “There’s part of it that’s a surprise and another part of it that feels guilty, not sure how to feel. I looked and was just holding it, turning it in my hands.”
But after that first find, he said weeks of poor weather kept him from going on his sunrise walks and searching out more treasures. Dreary overcast conditions, both before and after Elsa, kept him inside until the storm passed.
As soon as he got back out there, however, lightning struck twice.
“This was only the second time in weeks that I had gone out and both times, watching the sunrise on a beach walk, I found the megalodon teeth,” he said with a laugh. “It feels like you get a little fragment of the mysteries of the history of our planet.”
In his discoveries, Danner has grown to appreciate the lending hand Mother Nature provides in unearthing those mysteries. He said systems like thunderstorms and nor’easters help churn the waters, bringing new discoveries to shore.
It’s like the wind and wave action does a lot of the digging for you, he said.
“Weather certainly informs a lot of the hunting,” he said. “So when I watch the tides, I watch the app to check because, for me, the best time to go is always two hours after peak high tide when the tide starts going back out, it’s like churning the shore in reverse. So I like to walk a strip back and forth, back and forth, following that and just seeing what the waves turn over.”
The history of his fossils dates back millions and millions of years. The long-extinct shark species domineered the world’s oceans from the early Miocene Epoch, over 23.03 million years ago, to the end of the Pliocene Epoch, about 2.5 million years ago, according to Brittanica.
The name megalodon itself means “giant tooth,” an apt name for one of the largest fish this world has ever seen. Armed with hundreds of serrated teeth and a bite force between 108,514 and 182,201 newtons (humans average a bite force of 1,317 newtons), megalodons are believed to have casually snacked on any and all sea creatures, including whales and other sharks.
Their teeth have survived the last couple million years thanks to a fossilization process known as permineralization. Danner said that he had read that when an all-black tooth is found, it likely indicates a fossil that’s at least 11 million years old.
He joked that they look delicately shined as if a jeweler polished them.
“It’s showroom ready as is! These things are just incredible, I’m astounded that they could survive all those millions of years,” he said.