When you’re the biggest shark that’s ever lived, you’d think you’d be pretty confident taking on all comers, but new research reveals that the infamous Carcharocles megalodon preferred to snack on small whales rather than larger prey. According to the authors of a new study, the massive shark’s preference for mere canapes may have led to its extinction, as these miniature whales died off around 3 million years, leaving megalodons with nothing to eat.
The researchers examined bite marks on fossils found off the coast of Peru, where they discovered the remains of some now-extinct dwarf whales and seal-like creatures that appeared to be covered in cuts and grazes that fit perfectly with the teeth of the megalodon.
Dating back to around 7 million years ago, the skull of one particular specimen contains markings that strongly resemble the biting techniques used by modern great white sharks on seals.
Describing the find in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, the study authors say this provides clear evidence as to the feeding preferences of megalodons, and allows the first ever identification of a specific species that the shark preyed upon, in the form of an ancient miniature whale called Piscobalaena nana.
Like other similarly diminutive cetaceans, P. nana lived in warm coastal waters, and died off around 3 million years ago when the onset of a glacial period caused both water temperatures and sea levels to drop. In their place, larger whales that were better adapted to colder waters came to dominate.
Given that the megalodon itself became extinct just 400,000 years later, the study authors propose that its inability to tackle these larger whales may have been among the major causes of the colossal shark's demise.
Megalodon’s failure to prey on these whales was probably down to the fact that they were simply too big, coupled with the fact that they tended to migrate long distances to the cold feeding areas around the polar regions, where the sharks couldn’t follow them.