Megalodon shark extinction unrelated to climate change; new reasons revealed

Man sits on the jaws of a megalodon from a restoration of fossil shark done by Bashford Dean in 1909.
Man sits on the jaws of a megalodon from a restoration of fossil shark done by Bashford Dean in 1909. Photo: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The megalodon shark, a monster sea creature that was three times the size of a great white shark, was long believed to have gone extinct 2.6 million years ago because of climate change.

The largest shark in the history of our planet, growing to 60 feet in length, ruled the ocean for some 20 million years until its disappearance, which is said to have coincided with the onset of an ice age.

However, researchers at the University of Zurich have concluded that climate change was not a factor, the university announced Thursday as reported by UPI, Daily Mail and Phys.Org.

Instead, a team led by Catalina Pimiento from the Paleontological Institute and Museum of the University of Zurich reached this conclusion: “The giant shark became extinct because the diversity of its prey decreased and new predators appeared as competitors.”

Simply put, the megalodon, scientifically known as Carcharocles megalodon, faced growing competition for a dwindling food source.

Jaws of a megalodon could reach up to nearly 10 feet. Photo: Courtesy of ©Jeff Gage/Florida Museum of Natural History
Jaws of a megalodon could reach up to nearly 10 feet. Photo: Courtesy of ©Jeff Gage/Florida Museum of Natural History

Pimiento said megalodon numbers did not decline in colder periods, nor did they increase significantly in rising water temperatures.

“We were not able to ascertain any direct link between the extinction of C. megalodon and the global fluctuations in temperatures during this time,” Pimiento explained in a news release from the University of Zurich. “Changing climatic conditions do not appear to have had any influence on the population density and range of the giant sharks.”

Pimiento and his team reached this conclusion after studying 200 megalodon records from museum collections and databases with an age range of more than 20 million years. The information was used to reconstruct the range and the abundance of this prehistoric sea creature that shared the Earth with dinosaurs.

“Understanding the distribution patterns of megalodon allows us to assess the extinction pathway of this species: how it varied from its origination, to its extinction,” Pimiento told MailOnline. “This can ultimately provide clues on the causes of its extinction.”

Up to approximately 16 million years ago, megalodons were mainly found in the Northern Hemisphere in the warm waters off the coast of America, around Europe and in the Indian Ocean. Later, they penetrated farther into the Asian, Australian and South American coasts.

Abundance of the species peaked between 16 million and 11 million years ago, with the largest geographical coverage taking place between 11 million and 5 million years ago.

Megalodon numbers began declining 5 million years ago with the gradual emergence of a glacial period during the Pliocene.

Some teeth of the megalodon were up to 7-inches long. Photo: Courtesy of ©Pimiento/Florida Museum of Natural History
Some teeth of the megalodon were up to 7-inches long. Photo: Courtesy of ©Pimiento/Florida Museum of Natural History

“We found that climate change does not explain the geographic distribution of megalodon,” Pimiento told MailOnline. “Hence, ocean temperature did not drive the extinction of this species, directly … Our results show that the distribution patterns of megalodon coincide with a drop in the diversity of their potential prey, and the rise of their potential competitors.”

Wrote the University of Zurich, “The evolutionary narrative of other species seems to have had an effect on the development of the monster sharks.

“When megalodon range shrank, numerous smaller marine mammal species disappeared. The second factor was the appearance of new predators such as the ancestors of the killer whale and the great white shark. The results suggest that these species could have competed for the increasingly scarce food sources.”

Pimiento told MailOnline he plans to investigate “how other environmental factors different from temperature could have been related with the extinction of this species, and the ecological consequences of the extinction of not only megalodon, but other predators.”

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