National Megalodon Day is celebrated on June 15 every year. The megalodon is one of the largest apex predators to have ever existed. It’s no wonder why this mega-toothed shark continues to fascinate and dominate imaginations. This shark ruled the oceans for over 20 million years, its enormous serrated teeth — all 276 of them — ensured a spot at the top of the food chain. What happened to this prehistoric shark? Does it still lurk in the depths of the ocean?
The earliest megalodon fossils date back to 20 million years ago. The megalodon was the ruler of the seas until becoming extinct 3.6 million years ago. It was not just the world’s largest shark, but also the world’s largest fish. You might wonder how large it was — well it’s between 49 and 59 feet long, at the very least. For perspective, that’s three times longer than the largest great white shark ever documented.
Now let’s talk about those teeth. Scientists have found fossils with Megalodon teeth that are at least seven inches long. Fun fact — the word ‘megalodon’ actually means ‘large tooth.’ So, it’s safe to say that the pearly whites take precedence in any Megalodon discussion.
A fish this large needed to eat a lot of food. The enormous serrated teeth would have torn through any type of meat. Scientists believe the megalodon ate large prey — from dolphins and other sharks to humpback whales. Their jaws could open big enough to swallow two adult humans side-by-side.
Scientists haven’t discovered an entire Megalodon skeleton yet. While several reconstructions have it looking like a bigger version of the great white shark, this is largely incorrect. For a long time, many people believed the two were related. Current research debunks this theory. The megalodon comes from a different shark lineage, of which it was the last surviving member.
Could the megalodon be living somewhere in the depths of the ocean still? Highly unlikely. We know, for a fact, that the megalodon became extinct when the earth’s temperatures started cooling 2.6 million years ago. We’re not sure exactly when or how, but there are theories. Cooler temperatures may have destroyed their habitat. Perhaps prey went extinct and accelerated the megalodon’s extinction.