A tooth that belonged to an ancient giant shark has been stolen from a World Heritage site in Australia.
The 8-cm (3-inch) tooth went missing from a secret location in a park in the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage site in Western Australia, the BBC reported.
The fossil came from the Megalodon species, a giant predator that is believed to have gone extinct about 2.6 million years ago.
Authorities suspect the tooth was deliberately targeted by thieves, the BBC reported.
Arvid Hogstrom from Parks and Wildlife in Western Australia said the fossilized tooth had been dug up in the Cape Range National Park, but its precise location had not been revealed to the general public.
“It was definitely a secret,” Hogstrom said, according to Australia’s ABC News.
The fossil was one of two Megalodon teeth located in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Coast.
“The worst part is they took the better specimen, which was not so well known,” said Hogstrom, according to the BBC.
“Our staff had actually physically covered it up with natural features to make sure it was hidden.”
Unlike the other tooth, it was not visited by tourists.
Hogstrom said only a small group of locals and others knew of its location. He said that it was his suspicion that an individual may have “unwittingly told someone who decided to do the wrong thing,” according to the BBC.
“But it only takes one person to tell the wrong person and we end up where we are now,” he said, ABC News reported.
According to Hogstrom, the fossil was most likely removed with a hammer or a chisel, in violation conservation and property laws. He added that the thief may try to sell the fossilized tooth.
“It could be someone who doesn’t know what they’ve taken. It could be an amateur collector who wants to add to their collection, or it could be someone who wants to trade it on the black market,” Hogstrom said, according to ABC.
The tooth was unusually well preserved for a specimen of its type.
“Normally, you would just get portions of the tooth, embedded in limestone, rather than an almost whole tooth,” Hogstrom said, according to the BBC.
Hogstrom said a number of ideas were considered to keep the tooth safe.
“We’ve been looking at everything from bulletproof glass covers and other sorts of cages to enclose it.
“But obviously someone’s got in there before we’ve been able to [secure it],” he said, according to ABC.
The Megalodon, a whale-eating shark, could grow up to 18 metres (59 feet) in length and weigh about 30 times more than the largest great white shark, according to the BBC.
Fossils of it have been found across the world, including in Europe, Africa, and the Americas.