The open waters of Earth’s oceans can be a very dangerous place. Throughout their vastness, there are countless predators lurking from the depths, searching for their next prey. Giant squid, killer whales and of course, probably the most perfect hunters nature has ever created, the sharks. Over 420 million years of evolution has made them ideally suited for any environment. Today there are over 500 species, in all shapes and sizes, from the dwarf lanternshark with its tiny 17 centimeters to the largest fish in our oceans – the whale shark, reaching approximately 12 meters. But even it pales when compared to the largest shark as well as the largest fish to have ever lived – the Megalodon.
The Megalodon emerged approximately 23 million years ago and spread throughout the tropical seas around the world. Despite its size, it preferred the coastlines and shallow waters and its remains have been discovered on every continent, except for Antarctica. However, like most fish they don’t have calcium in their bones, but are made from soft cartilage, similar to our nose and ears. That’s why almost all of the fossils we have of them are solely of their teeth. So much so, that even the name Megalodon translates from Ancient Greek to “big tooth”. Without a complete skeleton, nobody is actually sure how big they used to be, and their size is an often debated subject. Most scientists believe they could grow up to 18 meters, three times larger than the biggest Great White ever recorded, but some go even further and theorize they could reach lengths of up to 25 meters. And then there are some who think that these estimations are greatly exaggerated, and it did not grow beyond 10 meters, a bit smaller than a Whale Shark.
What we can be sure of is, it was large enough that it could prey on whales. There have been multiple fossilized whale bones, with cut marks of Megalodon teeth on them and on rare occasions even some with a broken tooth firmly jammed into them. This required them to be able to open their mouth wide enough to bite into them. Their jaw span was estimated to be between 2.7 and 3.4 meters, wide enough to swallow a human or two without problem.
Around 2.6 million years ago, at the end of the Pliocene period the Earth began to cool off. Ice began to build at both poles, causing the sea level to rapidly shrink. This combined with the cooling of the waters greatly reduced their habitat. The changes affected all marine species, but the large animals were hit the hardest. Their numbers plummeted and without its main source of food the giant shark slowly went into extinction.
There are several contenders for the largest Megalodon tooth ever discovered, however they are all parts of private collections and there are no exact measurements. Regardless, all of them measure around 19 centimeters. Their giant size baffled people during Ancient times, leading them to create some bizarre theories. In Western Europe they were believed to be petrified serpent tongues and were commonly referred to as “tongue stones”.