Why Did Megalodon Sharks Go Extinct?

Megalodon (Carcharocles megalodon)
© Warpaint/Shutterstock.com

Written by Nixza Gonzalez

Updated: June 30, 2023

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Key Points:
  • It’s thought that megalodon sharks became extinct in part due to climate change: as oceans grew colder, they may not have been able to regulate their temperatures as needed.
  • Lack of prey could be behind the megalodon’s extinction, as many marine animals and fish could not survive the cold temperatures.
  • As food supplies decreased, competition increased among large ocean predators and some believe that predators such as the Livyatan could have fought in packs and killed megalodon sharks.

Megalodon sharks are a true mystery. These gigantic and fearsome sharks lived 23 million years ago, way after dinosaurs went extinct. They were massive predators of the sea and may have grown as large as 58.7 feet or longer.

Interestingly, everything we know about the megalodon sharks comes from studying the large fossilized teeth left behind. Sharks, unlike other fish, don’t have bones, so no megalodon shark ‘skeleton’ has ever been found.

Megalodons succumbed to global cooling due to the shrinking of their habitat, the vanishing of their favorite prey, and competition from other predators 3.5 million years ago.

These reasons as well as key facts on these large apex predators have been discussed in detail, here.

Could a Megalodon Still Be Alive?

Megalodon Teeth - Megalodon Shark Teeth

Scientists estimate the size of Megalodon sharks by their teeth.

©iStock.com/Mark Kostich

There are dozens of movies about megalodon sharks, but we can assure you they are not still alive. While it is true that we have discovered less than 5% of the ocean because of how deep most of the waters are, there is no way such a giant apex predator could hide. Megalodon sharks were massive creatures and needed a lot of food daily to survive. There is not enough prey in the sea to keep up with their diets. Scientists think the megalodon shark ate up to 2,500 pounds of food per day.

Currently, the largest species in the ocean are the Antarctic blue whales. They virtually have no predators as they weigh up to 400,000 pounds. They are fast, agile, and too large to take down even by multiple sharks. Even if the megalodon shark were alive today, Antarctic blue whales are two to three times larger than it. The only time other animals attack or consume an Antarctic blue whale is when the whale has died. The carcass is so large it can feed an entire ecosystem, either at the bottom of the ocean floor or washed up on a beach.

You may have heard someone once say that megalodon sharks and great white sharks are closely related, but this is only somewhat true. Instead, great white sharks are more closely related to mako sharks and likely did not evolve from the megalodon.

Instead, some studies support the theory that megalodon sharks were the last of a larger shark species. Great white sharks have a lot of similarities with megalodon sharks. For example, great white sharks are considered warm-blooded as they can control their body temperature as they swim, and researchers believe this is the same case for megalodon sharks.

Megalodon sharks belong to the Otodontidae family, but one was thought to be a part of the Lamnidae family. Some sharks within the same family include mega-toothed but extinct sharks.

What Did Megalodon Sharks Eat?

Megalodon Shark Hunting some Dolphins.

Megalodon sharks hunted dolphins, other sharks, and whales.

©Antonio Viesa/Shutterstock.com

Megalodon sharks were likely not picky eaters. As the apex predators of the sea, they could hunt for squid, other large sharks, and even whales. Think about it, megalodon sharks were about the same size as a bus, if not longer! These sharks likely ate large mammals with their massive jaws. Even if a tooth breaks, the sharks could replace the tooth within days. Fossil remains of megalodon sharks’ teeth estimate that they could open their jaws 2.7 to 3.4 meters wide.

3 Theories to Explain Why Megalodon Sharks Went Extinct

There is a lot of debate over how these animals went extinct, especially since they were the top predators in the sea. Listed below are three common theories as to how megalodon sharks may have gone extinct.

1. Climate Change

A big theory is climate change, although not many scientists consider this the sole reason for this massive extinction. These sharks were mainly warm-blooded or thought to be. As the climate changed during the Pliocene, oceans grew colder. This was a hard change for many animals, including the megalodon shark, which may not have been able to regulate its temperature as necessary. According to some researchers, it is unlikely the temperature change affected megalodon sharks, but it did affect their food supply.

2. Lack of Prey

During the same time as the climate change, a lot of prey the megalodon shark feasted on began disappearing, which also increased competition among large ocean predators. A lot of smaller marine animals and fish went extinct because of the cold temperatures. According to one source, 43% of turtles and 35% of seabirds went extinct during the time period. This may have caused the megalodon shark to venture into new waters during a time when other large predators were emerging, like the orca’s ancestor.

3. Larger Packs of Predators

Livyatan vs Megalodon

The Livyatan and the megalodon likely fought as food sources depleted.

©Herschel Hoffmeyer/Shutterstock.com

It is hard to imagine that there weren’t just one or two large predators in the ocean, but multiple. While most large predators stayed clear of each other, this became impossible as food supplies decreased. Since there are limited fossils to examine, no theory is 100% correct. Some people believe that predators like the Livyatan, which is the size of sperm whales (40-60 ft), could have fought and wiped out the megalodon sharks in packs. This is very similar to how pods of orca whales attack great white sharks.

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About the Author

Nixza Gonzalez is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics like travel, geography, plants, and marine animals. She has over six years of experience as a content writer and holds an Associate of Arts Degree. A resident of Florida, Nixza loves spending time outdoors exploring state parks and tending to her container garden.

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