The megalodon shark was one of the fiercest and largest predators to ever swim in the ocean. Estimates suggest it grew to between 15 and 18 meters in length, three times longer than the largest recorded great white shark.
Without a complete megalodon skeleton, these figures are based on the size of the animal’s teeth. In fact The name “megalodon” means “big tooth.” The largest tooth fossil recovered clocked in at a whopping 6.9 inches, three times as large as the average great white’s tooth. Some reports cite a tooth measuring more than 7 inches.
|A megalodon tooth next to a tooth of a great white shark|
Locations of fossils
Fossil remains of megalodon have been found in shallow tropical and temperate seas along the coastlines and continental shelf regions of all continents except Antarctica. During the early and middle parts of the Miocene Epoch (which lasted from 23 million to 5.3 million years ago), large seaways separated North America from South America and Europe and Asia from Africa and the Middle East, which likely facilitated movement from one ocean basin to another. Throughout the Miocene, megalodon distribution expanded from pockets located in the Caribbean and Mediterranean seas, in the Bay of Bengal, and along the coasts of California and southern Australia to encompass waters off the coasts of northern Europe, South America, southern Africa, New Zealand, and east Asia. During the Pliocene Epoch, however, megalodon’s geographic range contracted significantly, and it was extinct by the end of the epoch.
|Locations of megalodon fossil discoveries, yellow from the Pliocene and blue from the Miocene
The Earth experienced a number of changes during the time period megalodon existed which affected marine life. Some researchers believe that the megalodon was unable to adapt to the cooling waters. Their prey, however, could, and moved into those cooler waters where the megalodon could not follow.
According to the Natural History Museum of London, the cooler waters also killed off some of the megalodon’s food sources, which could have had a crippling effect on the shark. Up to a third of all large marine animals became extinct once the water cooled, and this loss was felt up and down the entire food chain.