Over the years, American families have passed down a common phrase. Each new generation hears a variation of, “Finish your dinner, there are starving children in (foreign country) who would love to have that food.” However, with this new information, I think we should revise it. “Eat your food. The giant megalodon went extinct because it was a picky eater.” For one, it may be true. On top of that, kids love sharks. Additionally, it stops brave children from telling their parents to box up their leftovers and ship them overseas.
Today, we would see the giant megalodon as a sea monster, but they’ve been extinct for millions of years. They were absolutely massive predatory sharks. Some scientists say that the largest members of the species could be about 80 feet long. To put that into perspective, the world’s largest living species, Antarctic blue whales, average about 98 feet long.
Recently, the scientific journal Current Biology published research that posits that the giant megalodon died off because it was a picky eater, according to The Daily Star. The fossil record shows that the species’ teeth would have made it suitable for eating whales. In fact, they believe that the megalodon fed on prehistoric sperm whales. Today, the sperm whale is the world’s largest toothed whale and clocks in at about 68 feet long. It’s safe to assume their prehistoric relatives were even bigger.
So, What Happened to the Giant Megalodon?
The research shows that climate change put a damper on the giant megalodon’s entrée of choice. The waters cooled over the course of the Miocene and Pliocene periods. That led to prehistoric sperm whales moving or dying off. In the end, there wasn’t enough food to sustain a thriving population. As a result, the massive predators slowly dwindled until they completely vanished from the earth. Today, all we have left of them is their massive fossils.
Researchers can draw a parallel between the giant megalodon and its modern cousins. There are several orders of sharks. However, the two that are important for comparison are the Lamniformes, or mackerel sharks, and carcharhiniformes, or ground sharks. Megalodons were mackerel sharks, so are great whites.
Modern mackerel sharks tend to eat a very narrow diet. As a result, there isn’t much diversity in the order. Conversely, ground sharks have adapted their diet over the centuries. This has allowed them to become the largest and most diverse order of sharks in the sea.
If the giant megalodon could have adapted to the changing times, it could have survived. As the climate changes again, we could expect to see more mackerel sharks die off. Their lack of dietary diversity will be their end if their specific food sources start to dwindle.