Tech UPTechnologySperm whale nose, the megalodon's favorite snack

Sperm whale nose, the megalodon's favorite snack

Peruvian scientists seem to know what the preferred food of the megalodon ( Otodus megalodon ) was. According to a study recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences , the extinct shark had a great time eating the nose of sperm whales. He did it because this area of the animal is rich in fat and oils .

A group of Peruvian researchers has examined a series of skulls of extinct whales that inhabited the Earth in the last part of the Miocene, that is, between 23 million and 5.3 million years ago. What they have found in them are numerous shark tooth marks, including those of the megalodon and sharks that exist today, such as white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) and mako sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus).

As the authors point out in their study, there are sperm whale skulls that show more than a dozen bites from different species of sharks . This is indicative of “a series of consecutive scavenging events.” In addition, the location of the bites indicates that the sharks were targeting the foreheads and noses of the sperm whales.

The sperm whale is the largest predator that exists. It has a head disproportionate to its body and a large part of it is occupied by its nasal organs, with which whales produce sound. Two structures of this nasal network, the melon and the spermaceti, have a lot of fat and oil, which would explain the tooth marks on the skulls of Miocene whales right in those areas.

“Many sharks used these sperm whales as a store of fat,” said the study’s lead author, Aldo Benites-Palomino. “In a single specimen, I think we have at least five or six species of sharks all biting the same region, which is crazy,” he told Live Science .

There are currently three species of sperm whales: the great sperm whale ( Physeter macrocephalus ), the pygmy sperm whale ( Kogia breviceps ), and the dwarf sperm whale ( Kogia sima ). However, about 7 million years ago, there were at least seven species , ranging from the smallest of the Kogia and Scaphokogia genera, measuring no more than 4 meters, to giant creatures such as Livyatan, which measured up to 18 meters. Behind the numerous Miocene sperm whales were a few sharks eager to bite their noses.

The Peruvian researchers analyzed sperm whale skulls from the collection of the Natural History Museum in Lima. The skulls had been collected in the Pisco Formation, in southern Peru, and dated to about 7 million years ago. In the Miocene this desert area of the coast was extremely important from the point of view of marine biodiversity.

The team discovered patterns of bite marks on six skulls. Some had only a few bite marks, while others showed as many as 18 puncture holes clustered around the whales’ faces. “It was clear to us that something was going on: the sharks were somehow preying on these animals and trying to feed from their noses,” Benites-Palomino said.

The detected tooth marks were not the same , but varied in shape and size, suggesting that different species of sharks lined up to bite. The saw-shaped bites were typical of the megalodon, the deep ones, as if made with a knife, could be made by mako sharks or sand sharks, and the intermediate ones, as more superficial and irregular, are typical of sharks, members of the white shark lineage.

According to the study, modern sharks are known to feed on many animals: sea turtles, birds and even humpback whale carcasses , but not sperm whales. It is not known what could have led the sharks to change their favorite food, the nose of sperm whales, for another.

“You start to imagine how this has changed, why it has changed, if there has been any implication on the environment,” Benites-Palomino said. “Rather than answering the questions, I think this makes me have more questions around all these discoveries.”

 

 

Referencia: Benites-Palomino, A., Velez-Juarbe, J., Altamirano-Sierra, A., Collareta A., Carrillo-Briceño, J, y Urbina, M. 2022. Sperm whales (Physeteroidea) from the Pisco Formation, Peru, and their trophic role as fat sources for late Miocene sharks. Proc. R. Soc. B. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2022.0774

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