Millions of years ago, a shark that would dwarf even the largest of its modern relatives plied the waters of the earth. Called the megalodon, the creature could grow to almost 60 feet in length. But about two million to three million years ago, the megalodon disappeared.
Researchers believed they primarily died off as part of a mass extinction 2.6 million years ago, but suggests they disappeared long before then. So what killed them? It’s tough to say for certain, but newly published research points to slightly smaller predators occupying the same niche: great white sharks.
Determining the exact age of megalodon’s extinction is hard because the fossils tend to shift around in the rock layers, creating a big uncertainty around exactly when they died off. A group of researchers along the California coast because those fossils tend to be more reliable.
They uncovered evidence that megalodon did not vanish 2.6 million years ago as scientists believed, but rather went extinct around a million years earlier, about 3.6 million years ago. This is too early for megalodon to have been wiped out during the same mass extinction that took out many other marine species, so there must have been a different cause.
The researchers suspect the megalodon was wiped out by the great white shark, the same animal that inspires so much terror in humans. It’s not necessarily that great whites killed off the megalodon directly; instead, there’s a good chance the smaller and more agile sharks were simply able to outcompete the megalodon, and the latter simply starved to death.
Great white sharks evolved around four million years ago, giving them hundreds of thousands of years to spread around the world and eat all of the megalodon’s food, so this theory is plausible. It also might be the case that the megalodon died off at different times in different parts of the world, so the species went extinct in California tens of thousands of years before it disappeared everywhere else. Either way, great white sharks have yet another kill they can take credit for.