Biologist Discovers Megalodon Went Extinct Earlier Than Thought

Megalodon extinction graphical abstract. (Image: Robert Boessenecker)
Megalodon extinction graphical abstract. (Image: Robert Boessenecker)

Megalodon — a giant predatory shark that has inspired numerous documentaries, books, and blockbuster movies — likely went extinct at least 1 million years earlier than previously thought, according to new research published in PeerJ — the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences.

Earlier research, which used a worldwide sample of fossils, suggested that the 50-foot-long, giant shark Otodus megalodon went extinct 2.6 million years ago. Another recent study attempted to link this extinction (and that of other marine species) with a supernova known to have occurred at about this time.

However, a team of researchers led by vertebrate paleontologist Robert Boessenecker with the College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina, noted that in many places there were problems with the data regarding individual fossils in the study estimating the extinction date.

In the new study, the researchers reported every fossil occurrence of O. megalodon from the densely sampled rock record of California and Baja California (Mexico) in order to estimate the extinction. Morgan Churchill, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh on the study’s research team said:

Besides Boessenecker and Churchill, the research team included Dana Ehret, of New Jersey State Museum; Douglas Long, of the California Academy of Sciences; Evan Martin, of the San Diego Natural History Museum; and Sarah Boessenecker, of the University of Leicester, United Kingdom.

The researchers found that genuine fossil occurrences were present until the end of the early Pliocene epoch, 3.6 million years ago. All later fossils either had poor data provenance and likely came from other fossil sites or showed evidence of being eroded from older deposits. Until 3.6 million years ago, O. megalodon had a continuous fossil record on the West Coast. Boessenecker said:

This is a substantial adjustment, as it means that O. megalodon likely went extinct long before a suite of strange seals, walruses, sea cows, porpoises, dolphins, and whales all disappeared sometime about 1-2.5 million years ago. Boessenecker said:

The researchers speculate that competition with the newly evolved modern great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) is a more likely reason for megalodon’s extinction. Great whites first show up with serrated teeth about 6 million years ago and only in the Pacific; by 4 million years ago, they are finally found worldwide. Boessenecker said:

Provided by: University of Wisconsin Oshkosh [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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