Megalodon feasted on the noses of sperm whales
Megalodon — the largest shark that ever lived — ate sperm whales because it was drawn to their huge noses, a new study claims.
The prehistoric predator, measuring as long as 65 feet and weighing an estimated 100 tons, was one of the most ferocious animals when it swam in oceans around the world between 23 and 3.6 million years ago.
The sperm whale’s huge snout, which makes up a third of its body, was especially attractive to megalodon because it’s full of oily saturated fats, say researchers at the University of Zurich.
Their findings are based on analysis of 7 million-year-old fossilized sperm whale skulls from southern Peru.
A series of bite marks indicates that sharks eat them consistently.
Terrifying: Megalodon — the largest shark that ever lived — ate sperm whales because it was attracted to their huge noses, a new study claims. An artist impression of an attack is shown
The sperm whale’s huge snout, which makes up a third of its body, was especially attractive to megalodon because it’s full of oily saturated fats, according to researchers at the University of Zurich.
How big was the Meg?
With a dorsal fin the size of an adult human and a total length of up to 65 feet, the megalodon shaded the great white dwarf, which is up to 15 to 20 feet long.
In previous studies, academics estimated that the Meg had a body length of up to 52ft.
A person of this size would probably have had a head about 15 feet long, a 5 foot 4 inch dorsal fin, and a 12.6 foot long tail.
This means that an average-sized adult human can stand on the shark’s back and look just over the top of the dorsal fin.
However, a new study suggests that the calculations used to estimate a megalodon’s size were wrong.
Researchers now say the giant extinct shark may have reached 65 feet in length — the size of a cricket field.
Lead author Aldo Benites-Palomino, a paleontology student at the University of Zurich, said: “These are concentrated along the nose, mouth and face.
‘In sperm whales, these regions receive most of their greatly enlarged nasal organs, which are responsible for the sound production and emission system.
‘The main organs of this complex are the spermaceti and the melon, structures that are rich in fats and oils, but are also strongly regulated by the facial muscles.
“Most bite marks have been found on the bones adjacent to these soft tissue structures, such as the jaws, or around the eye, indicating that sharks have actively targeted this area.”
The sharks that attacked sperm whales ranged from megalodon – meaning big tooth – to species that are still around today, including shortfin mako sharks, sand sharks and the great white.
Megalodon even attacked the prehistoric sea monster Leviathan melvillei — named after the author of Moby Dick, scientists say.
Half a dozen skulls were unearthed at the Pisco Formation in the Ica Desert.
It is known for a treasure trove of shark and ray remains from the Miocene, bony fish, turtles, saltwater crocodiles, seabirds, whales and seals.
In the oceans, the Miocene was a time of changing circulation patterns, probably due to global cooling.
It spanned 23 million to five million years ago. By the end, almost all modern groups of whales had appeared.
Benites-Palomino said: ‘Sperm whales are a group characterized by their highly enlarged and rich in oily nasal organs, which they use for the production of sound.
‘Here we report several fossil sperm whale skulls from the Pisco Formation that show a similar pattern of shark bite marks.
“These are located over the cranial regions that house these organs, indicating a feeding preference of sharks over these nasal organs.
A series of bite marks on 7-million-year-old fossilized sperm whale skulls from southern Peru indicates sharks fed on them consistently
‘There is no modern preference for such a diet and suggests that the great diversity of Miocene sperm whales served as fat stores for prehistoric sharks.’
Over the past 30 years, explorations of the area have also revealed water sloths and even walrus-faced dolphins.
Benites-Palomino said: ‘It indicates a rich and diverse ecosystem seven million years ago.
‘Warmer oceanic water temperatures combined with a range of protected coastal environments have been very beneficial to marine fauna.
‘Below, sperm whales and sharks were some of the most common and notable groups out there.
“For the past decade, paleontologists around the world have been investigating the interactions between these two large groups of marine predators.”
Lead author Aldo Benites-Palomino, student of paleontology at the University of Zurich
The researchers hope their study can shed light on the links between them.
Benites-Palomino said, “The overall shape, size and arrangement of the bite marks is highly variable, suggesting that more than one species of shark targeted the sperm whales.”
Today, sharks search for the carcasses of baleen whales with high concentrations of fats, such as the blubber.
“During the Miocene, baleen whales were small, but sperm whales would have been a perfect storehouse for fat because of their highly enlarged and fat-rich nasal organs,” adds Benites-Palomino.
Megalodon and Leviathan became extinct about three million years ago during the period of global cooling, but the reasons for their demise are still debated.
The new study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences†
The megalodon, meaning large tooth, lived between 15.9 and 2.6 million years ago.
O. megalodon is considered one of the largest and most powerful predators in vertebrate history, and fossil remains suggest it could grow up to 19 meters in length.
The monster was thought to look like a beefier version of today’s dreaded great white shark and weighed up to 100 tons.
Megalodon is known for fossilized vertebrae and teeth, which are triangular and have a diagonal length of almost 20 cm.
It took famed fossil hunter Vito “Megalodon” Bertucci nearly 20 years to reconstruct the jaw of a megalodon — the largest ever assembled — measuring 11 feet in diameter and nearly 9 feet high.
The Megalodon’s colossal mouth is said to have produced a force of 10.8 to 18.2 tons.
The ancient shark has been described as a super predator, as it could swim at high speeds and kill a wide variety of prey, such as sea turtles and whales, quickly in its strong jaws.