This Story Has Teeth

Megalodon jaws rebuilt at Calvert Marine Museum

By Cheryl Costello

The Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons has lots of fascinating exhibits, but if there is one thing they’re known for, it’s the giant, prehistoric shark jaws they have on display. Well, that jaw has been dismantled and the megalodon it belongs to is getting a new set of chompers.

With a series of new discoveries made about shark teeth, the jaw is being upgraded with more historically accurate replicas than the existing set. Bay Bulletin got to see this unusual project close up—and so can you.

Imagine climbing into the jaw of a shark. “I’m going to be an oral surgeon,” quips exhibits technician Clarence “Shoe” Schumaker.

At least he won’t become a shark snack—it’s only a replica of a megalodon that went extinct around 3.5 million years ago. New evidence in the fossil record has prompted a new set of teeth for these jaws.

“I’m going to remove all the teeth—the ones that will come out—with just some pressure,” Schumaker explains.

The jaw came down last week and was moved into a lab at the museum. We watched as the teeth  were plucked out. “I wish an extraction of my tooth went that quick,” says the technician.

A meg’s set of teeth is nothing like ours. There are 230 teeth in five rows that will be replaced. Dr. Victor Perez, Assistant Curator of Paleontology, explains how shark teeth work. “In megalodon, we think that their first row of teeth would have consisted of 46 teeth and likely would have had 4 to 5 rows of teeth. So sharks, they’re constantly developing and replacing their teeth throughout their life. Anytime you look at a modern shark jaw, if you look at it from the inside, you’ll see these replacement rows of teeth basically forming like a conveyor belt,” Perez says.

Back in 1987, a collector found 95 teeth from one shark all together in Polk County, Fla. The findings weren’t published until last year. Perez says that while one tooth doesn’t give great context, the fossil evidence of 95 teeth together was a significant opportunity. “It’s like reconstructing the puzzle and actually having the pieces to put it together.”

Calvert Marine Museum’s historians are eager to update the facts they know about megalodon, just like a good dentist aligns our teeth. “We are a scientific institution, so what we convey to the public should represent what we know based on scientific evidence. And for megalodon, the most scientific evidence we have in the fossil record is from their teeth,” says Perez.

The published findings confirm the museum’s model matches the actual size of the jaw quite closely. The replica is 37.5 feet long. Calvert Marine Museum is using the information uncovered to refine its own megalodon’s teeth. “If you look at our old model and try to look at the cutting edge, you see that the serrations are very faint or absent entirely. So you can’t really see that fine detail on the older model. On our new model you can see these fine, high-detailed serrations on the cutting edge of the tooth.”

Visitors to the museum can see this unusual dental work up close by visiting the prep lab in the museum, where exhibit techs will be working on the project Mondays through Thursdays through mid-February. There’s also a shark exhibit you can sink your teeth into while you’re there, comparing fossils to modern-day sharks.