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A prehistoric battle for survival with great white sharks may have brought about the untimely end of the megalodon - the largest shark that ever lived.
A new study of the ferocious fish's fossil teeth suggests it had to compete with today's top sea-going predator for food.
According to the co-authors of the research, Dr. Kenshu Shimada, of DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois and Professor Thomas Tutken, of Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, the two ocean giants may well have fought it out over diminishing stocks of whales and other prey.
The lack of food amid environmental pressures, such as sea-level changes, may have pushed the megalodon to extinction three million years ago. Up until now, the megalodon's extinction, while other large sharks survived, had been an enduring enigma.
However, with their research, the scientists believe they may have found the key to the mystery. Zinc isotopes in the teeth of living sharks and 13 fossil megalodon teeth suggest the great white shark and the megalodon once occupied similar positions in the food chain, or web, and competed for large sea mammals such as whales, dolphins, and porpoises.
"Here, we demonstrate, for the first time, that diet-related zinc isotope signatures are preserved in the highly mineralised enameloid crown of fossil shark teeth," explains Professor Tütken. "These results likely imply at least some overlap in prey hunted by both shark species."
The megalodon (Otodus megalodon) was a megatooth shark present in the oceans from about 22 million years ago until about three million years ago - it was three times bigger than the great white shark and could grow up to 18m (60ft) in length and weigh up to 60 tonnes. In more recent times 'The 'Meg' has become a movie star - facing off against Jason Statham in an action film that suggested it may have survived at greater ocean depths. However, its additional bulk may not have been an advantage as it will have needed to consume more prey than its smaller cousin.