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Megalodon shark was outcompeted for shrinking food supply

The ancient shark population rose and fell relatively uniformly during the Miocene epoch, with fluctuations unrelated to climate.

By Brooks Hays
Megalodon shark was outcompeted for shrinking food supply
Megalodon, the largest shark in Earth's history, lost out to new predators as its food sources dried up. Photo by Herschel Hoffmeyer/Shutterstock

ZURICH, Switzerland, March 31 (UPI) -- The largest shark that ever swam Earth's waters disappeared roughly 2.6 million years ago, ending a reign that began 23 million years ago.

Previous studies have blamed the giant's extinction on climate change, but new research suggests Carcharocles megalodon -- which could stretch to 60 feet in length -- lost out to new predator species.

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Scientists at the University of Zurich re-examined the role the of climate change in megalodon's downfall. Using the fossil record, researchers plotted the species' distribution over time.

The shark's range and distribution shifted slightly over time. In the early Miocene epoch, populations stuck to the warm waters off the coasts of the Americas and Europe, as well as the Indian Ocean. The sharks later spread out along the Asian, Australian and South American coasts.

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But megalodon numbers rose and fell relatively uniformly, with fluctuations unrelated to climate.

"We were not able to ascertain any direct link between the extinction of C. megalodon and the global fluctuations in temperatures during this time," researcher Catalina Pimiento, a scientist with Zurich's Paleontological Institute and Museum, explained in a news release. "Changing climatic conditions do not appear to have had any influence on the population density and range of the giant sharks."

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Instead, researchers found smaller marine mammal species disappeared from the fossil record in the same places and at the same time as megalodon numbers began to shrink. Meanwhile, the early ancestors of the great white shark and killer whales showed up on the scene.

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It wasn't weather that did megalodon in, but a lack of food and new competition.

Researchers published their findings in the Journal of Biogeography.

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