Megalodon: The Terror of The Deep
Megalodon (Carcharocles megalodon), meaning "big tooth," is an extinct species of shark that lived approximately 23 to 2.6 million years ago (mya), during the Early Miocene to the end of the Pliocene. There had been some debate regarding the taxonomy of megalodon: some researchers argued that it was of the family Lamnidae and closely related to the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), while others argued that it belonged to the extinct family Otodontidae; presently, there is near unanimous consensus that the latter view is correct. Its genus placement is still debated, authors placing it in either Carcharocles, Megaselachus, Otodus, or Procarcharodon. The shark has made appearances in several media, such as the Discovery Channel's docufiction Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives.
Megalodon is regarded as one of the largest and most powerful predators in vertebrate history, and likely had a profound impact on the structure of marine communities.
Fossil remains suggest that this giant shark reached a maximum length of 50–70 feet, and also affirm that it had a cosmopolitan distribution. Scientists suggest that Megalodon looked like a stockier version of the great white shark.
When it was alive, Megalodons were the largest sharks to have ever lived and had a fearsome appetite, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History. By some estimates, Megalodons ate about 2,500 pounds of food every day, including fish and whales.
Fossils show that the sharks could have ingested several humans at the same time.
The sharks had 46 front row teeth, 24 in the upper jaw and 22 in the lower jaw. Most sharks have at least six rows of teeth, and a Megalodon had about 276 teeth at any given time.
Scientists suggest that megalodon looked like a stockier version of the great white shark, though it may have looked similar to the basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) or the sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus). Regarded as one of the largest and most powerful fish to have ever lived, fossil remains of megalodon suggest that this giant shark reached a length of 18 meters (59 ft). Their large jaws could exert a bite force of up to 108,500 to 182,200 newtons (24,390 to 40,960 lbf). Their teeth were thick and robust, built for grabbing prey and breaking bone.
Megalodon probably had a profound impact on the structure of marine communities. The fossil record indicates that it had a cosmopolitan distribution. It probably targeted large prey, such as whales, seals, and giant turtles. Juveniles inhabited warm coastal waters where they would feed on fish and small whales. Unlike the great white, which attacks prey from the soft underside, megalodon probably used its strong jaws to break through the chest cavity and puncture the heart and lungs of its prey.
The animal faced competition from whale-eating cetaceans, such as Livyatan and ancient killer whales (Orcinus citoniensis), which likely contributed to its extinction. As it preferred warmer waters, it is thought that oceanic cooling associated with the onset of the ice ages, coupled with the lowering of sea levels and resulting loss of suitable nursery areas, may have also contributed to its decline. A reduction in the diversity of baleen whales and a shift in their distribution toward polar regions may have reduced megalodon's primary food source. The extinction of the shark appeared to affect other animals; for example, the size of baleen whales increased significantly after the shark had disappeared.
The question for researchers is, are they still out there in the ocean depths?
Interestingly enough, there are many who refuse to believe that the megalodon shark is indeed extinct. Skeptics feel as if the megalodon shark may possibly be in existence deep down in the ocean. While it is true that we have not explored every inch of the world’s oceans, and it is likely that there are undiscovered species living in the depths of the waters, the belief that the megalodon shark may still be alive today has yet to be proven. Sharks are known for shedding hundreds of teeth on a regular basis; if the megalodon shark was still alive, they would be expected to shed the most teeth out of all of these sharks. Every megalodon tooth that has been found is ancient. Until a fresh megalodon tooth, a “megatooth” shark sighting, or some other form of proof has been presented, it is determined that this ancient shark is most definitely extinct.
This shark species has become increasingly popular because the Discovery Channel airs programs that claim it could still exist.
Many scientists say that the shark species definitely exist, while many deride Discovery for airing such programs.