A prehistoric tooth belonging to an extinct giant shark has been stolen from a secret location in a remote coastal stretch of western Australia.
The three-inch fossilised tooth belonged to a Megalodon, believed to be the largest sea creature in history that died out about 2.6 million years ago.
Researchers had tried to hide the tooth with rocks and were planning to protect it with a cage, to prevent anyone tampering with the significant archaeological find. Its precise location in the Ningaloo Coast, a world heritage area, was known to very few people.
"It was definitely a secret," Arvid Hogstrom, from Western Australia’s Parks and Wildlife service, told ABC News.
"There [were] only a few key local people who actually knew where it was. But it only takes one person to tell the wrong person and we end up where we are now.”
The tooth had not been fully excavated and was attached to a rock. It was apparently removed with a chisel.
There is another fossilised Megalodon tooth nearby, whose location is well-known and which is often visited by tour groups.
"The tooth has been floating around on the seafloor for quite some time,” said Mr Hogstrom.
“It's been pushed up into the ranges and was sitting there undisturbed for however long. Now someone's come along with a bit of a chisel and simply taken it away."
He added: “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."
Fossilised teeth from the Megalodon – which means “big tooth” - have been discovered around the world.
The giant sharks – believed to have weighed 50 tonnes and could reach more than 50 feet in length – fed on whales and fish.
The species is believed to be related to modern-day great white and mako sharks.