Megalodon, the largest shark that ever lived, ate sperm whales for breakfast, according to new research.
The huge and powerful sea monster was attracted by the cetaceans’ huge nose, which makes up a third of the body, and its spermaceti oil.
Megalodon even attacked a prehistoric sea monster leviathan melvilleinamed after Herman Melville, the author of Moby-Dicksay the scientists.
The sperm whale’s huge snout is filled with oily saturated fat. They generate the click sounds used for echolocation and communication, and increase buoyancy.
Cloth was Megalodon’s most nutritious food. The iconic beast was three and a half times bigger than the great white – up to 65 feet long and weighing over 50 tons.
It could have ripped the head off a sperm whale, biting into the flesh with its 7-inch serrated teeth.
The findings are based on 7 million year old fossilized sperm whale skulls from the coastal desert of southern Peru.
A series of bites indicates that sharks, including Leviathan, constantly feed on them. They shed new light on the evolution of marine ecosystems.
Lead author Aldo Benites-Palomino, a paleontology student at the Swiss University of Zurich, said: “These (bite marks) are concentrated along the nose, mouth and face.
“In sperm whales, these regions receive most of their very 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 rich in fats and oils, but also strongly regulated by the facial muscles.
“Most bite marks were found on bones that would be adjacent to these soft tissue structures, such as the jaws, or around the eye, indicating that the sharks were actively targeting this region.”
They ranged from megalodon to species that still exist today including mako sharks, sand sharks and great whites.
Sperm whales ranged from small fish-eaters like Koristocetus to bizarre “pygmies” like Scaphokogia, and leviathan melvillei, which was 60 feet long and weighed 60 tons. It wasn’t discovered until 2008, more than 150 years after Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick.
Benites-Palomino said: “Bite marks found on other taxa such as Acrophyseter or even Giant Leviathan indicate that despite their role as apex predators, large hunting sperm whales were also a food source for Late Miocene sharks.
In the oceans, the Miocene was a time of changing circulation patterns, possibly due to global cooling. It extended 23 to 5 million years ago. By the end, almost all modern groups of whales had appeared.
Half a dozen skulls have been unearthed from the Pisco Formation in the Ica Desert, a world famous site famous for its treasure trove of remains of Miocene sharks and rays, bony fish, turtles, saltwater crocodiles , seabirds, whales and seals.
“Cachalots are a group characterized by their very enlarged, fat-rich nasal organs, which they use for sound production,” Benites-Palomino said.
“Here we report several fossil sperm whale skulls from the Pisco Formation that display a similar pattern of shark bite marks.
“These are located in the regions of the skull that housed these organs, indicating a dietary preference of sharks over these nasal organs.
“Such a feeding pattern has no modern preference and suggests that the great diversity of Miocene sperm whales served as a fat depot for prehistoric sharks.”
Over the past 30 years, explorations in the area have also unearthed water sloths and even walrus-faced dolphins.
“This indicates a rich and diverse ecosystem 7 million years ago,” Benites-Palomino said.
“Warmer ocean temperatures combined with a series of protected coastal environments have greatly benefited marine wildlife.
“Of these, sperm whales and sharks were among the most abundant and visible groups.
“Over the past decade, paleontologists around the world have inquired about the interactions between these two major groups of marine predators.”
The study in Proceedings of the Royal Society B open a window on the connections between them.
Benites-Palomino said, “The overall shape, size and arrangement of bite marks are highly variable, suggesting that more than one species of shark targeted sperm whales.”
Most of the skulls belong to the 8-foot-long Scaphokogia, a strange animal characterized by a tubular, brick-like snout.
The sharks are thought to have directly targeted the animals in the water – and also picked them up.
Today, sharks seek out baleen whale carcasses with high concentrations of fat, such as blubber.
Benites-Palomino added, “During the Miocene, baleen whales were small, but sperm whales would have been a perfect fat depot due to their greatly enlarged, lipid-rich nasal organs.”
Megalodon and Leviathan died around 3 million years ago during a period of global cooling. The reasons for their disappearance are still debated.
This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.