Researchers at the University of Pisa in Italy think they have discovered why the megalodon (Carcharocles megalodon), the biggest shark to have ever existed on Earth, disappeared 2.6 million years ago.
This is like something that’s come straight out of Jurassic Park. We have just uncovered some of the deepest secrets of the incredible megalodon, a now-extinct species.
Based on the analysis of a fossil from the biggest shark to have ever existed on this planet, a new study reveals that its disappearance could have been due to the extinction of its preferred food. In other words, the Piscobalaena nana, a similar species to a small whale and part of the Cetacea family.
‘The disappearance of the last giant-toothed shark could have been triggered by the decline and fall of several dynasties of small to medium-sized baleen whales in favour of modern, gigantic baleen whales,’ explained the main author of the study published in the Palaeongeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoeology magazine, Alberto Collareta, to New Scientist.
A 15-metre-long shark
During their research, the palaeontologists studied some old fossils that date back 7 million years and belong to different marine mammals. More precisely, they are intrigued by the possibility that teeth marks could have been left on the bones by the giant shark.
‘Among those carrying marks left by megalodon teeth were the jawbone of a diminutive, extinct species of baleen whale called Piscobalaena nana and an early type of seal called Piscophoca pacifica,’ says Alberto Collareta.
‘Both animals grew to less than 5 metres in length – under a third of the size of megalodon.’
For the record, the megalodon, this prehistoric shark, was so huge that it would have made a great white shark look like a cod fish. A great white shark that measures 5 metres long on average is definitely scary, but the megalodon could reach lengths of up to 15 metres quite easily which is even more terrifying.
It’s fair to assume that the size of its teeth and the size of its body were proportional, and according to estimations, they could measure up to 15 centimetres. Can you even imagine what it would be like if this monster still lived among us?
A lack of food
According to the team, it was these ‘little’ preys that could have led to the megalodon’s extinction. A few million years ago, climate change would have caused fast changes in the areas where a lot of small whales lived, which in turn would have caused a lot of them to die.
This means that, not only the amount of available food would have reduced, but that the poles would have also melted, creating an abundance of ocean ecosystems. Scientists think that these changes had two consequences for the shark. On one hand, it would have had to fight bigger whales for food, of which some may have been too big for it to handle.
On the other hand, it is possible that the megalodon, that originally lived in hotter coastal areas, couldn’t survive in the cold of the poles where the other marine animals, particularly the big whales, managed to adapt so quickly and make a home.
That said, other researchers agree that the megalodon would have been able to take on bigger prey from time to time, a bit like we do during special meals such as New Year or Christmas. This is a theory however that no one can confirm since it is also possible that this shark would have completely stripped the carcasses of their flesh.
Additional studies still have to be done to completely understand why this giant shark disappeared even if this research is already providing us with some leads as to what could have brought down the biggest shark to have ever existed on Earth.
Check out the video above to see more of the Megalodon!