The great white shark fills many humans with fear. However, a few million years ago, there were far bigger sharks. The biggest shark know to man is megalodon. Scientists have been able to calculate an approximate length from the dimensions of the teeth, and have come up with a massive 52 feet, which is roughly 3 times bigger than a great white.
Megalodon means “big tooth” in Greek and it possessed some of the biggest teeth in the world’s history. Fossilized teeth have been found to measure approximately 7 inches. Fossil remains of megalodon are widespread throughout the world, finds occurring in the Americas, Jamaica, Japan, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. The fossils have been dated back as far as the late Oligocene, about 25 million years ago.
Sharks of all sizes and from all ages are rather opportunistic hunters, and will eat what they can, when they can. Megalodon was highly equipped for its predatory status. Its metabolism was highly efficient, it swam at great speeds and its large size allowed it to prey upon almost all the animal life in the prehistoric seas. Suggested prey items consisted of whales, sea turtles, pinnipeds, porpoises, dolphins and of course, fish.
Megalodon stuck mostly to warmer regions of the sea, where potential threats were at a minimum and there was plenty of food to be found.
Being perhaps one of the most efficient predators of all time, scientists have pondered for a long while why megalodon went extinct about 1 million years ago. Some believe that the Pleistocene extinction of many whale species could have starved the megalodon to extinction. A more likely reason however, is the appearance of the orca, or killer whale. The orcas had an advantage over megalodon because they hunted in pods of many individuals. The capabilities of being mammalian gave the whales a bit of an edge. They had faster metabolisms, the use of echolocation, the ability to live in cooler waters, and well-developed brains.
In the end, the giant sharks disappeared into history. Their fossils, compressed in sediment would not be found until the 1600’s, but it was not until 1835 that scientist Louis Agassiz would name the species Carcharodon Megalodon. Today, there are quite a few beaches in the Florida Keys known for having shark teeth found upon their banks, and even a few fossilized megalodon teeth. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next to find one.
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