Megalodon feasted on the noses of sperm whales

Megalodon — the biggest shark that ever lived — ate sperm whales because it was attracted by their huge noses, a new study claims.

Measuring up to 65ft long and weighing an estimated 100 tonnes, the prehistoric predator was one of the most ferocious animals when it swam in oceans around the globe between 23 and 3.6 million years ago.

The sperm whale’s enormous snout, which makes up a third of its body, was particularly appealing to megalodon because it is packed with oily saturated fats, according to researchers at the University of Zurich.

Their findings are based on analysis of 7 million-year-old fossilised sperm whale skulls from southern Peru.

A series of bite marks indicate that sharks consistently fed on them.

Lead author Aldo Benites-Palomino, a palaeontology student at the University of Zurich, said: ‘These are concentrated along the nose, mouth and face.

‘In sperm whales, these regions receive most of their greatly enlarged nasal organs that 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 heavily regulated by the facial muscles.

‘Most of the bite marks have been found on the bones that would be adjacent to these soft tissue structures, such as the jaws, or around the eye, thus indicating that sharks actively targeted this region.’

The sharks that attacked sperm whales ranged from megalodon — meaning big-tooth — to species that are still around today, including mako sharks, sand sharks and the Great White.

Megalodon even attacked prehistoric sea monster Leviathan melvillei — named after the author of Moby Dick, say scientists.

Half a dozen skulls were unearthed at the Pisco Formation in the Ica Desert.

It is famous for a treasure trove of Miocene shark and ray remains, bony fishes, turtles, marine crocodiles, seabirds, whales and seals.

In the oceans, the Miocene was a time of changing circulation patterns, probably due to global cooling.

It spanned 23 million to five million years ago. By the end of it, almost all modern groups of whales had appeared.

Benites-Palomino said: ‘Sperm whales are a group characterised by their greatly enlarged, and rich in fat, nasal organs, which they use for sound production.

‘Here, we report several fossil sperm whale skulls from the Pisco Formation that display a similar pattern of shark bite marks.

‘These are located across the skull regions which housed these organs, indicating a feeding preference by sharks over these nasal organs.

‘Such a feeding pattern has no modern preference and suggest the broad diversity of Miocene sperm whales served as a fat repository for prehistoric sharks.’

During the last 30 years, explorations carried out in the area have also unveiled aquatic sloths and even walrus-faced dolphins.

Benites-Palomino said: ‘It indicates a rich and diverse ecosystem seven million years ago.

‘Warmer oceanic water temperatures combined with a series of protected coastal environments greatly benefited the marine fauna.

‘Among these, sperm whales and sharks were some of the most abundant and conspicuous groups around.

‘During the last decade palaeontologists across the globe have been inquiring about the interactions between these two large groups of marine predators.’

The researchers hope their study could shed light on the connections between them.

Benites-Palomino said: ‘The overall shape, size and arrangement of the bite marks is greatly variable, suggesting more than one species of shark was targeting the sperm whales.’

Today, sharks seek the carcasses of baleen whales with high concentrations of fats, such as the blubber.

‘During the Miocene baleen whales were small, but sperm whales would have constituted a perfect fat repository due to their greatly enlarged and lipid-rich nasal organs,’ Benites-Palomino added.

Megalodon and Leviathan died out about three million years ago during the period of global cooling, but the reasons for their demise are still being debated.

The new study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

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    The Sturgeon Moon debuted earlier this week, appearing roughly 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than the usual full moon.

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    Dr Sara Russell, a professor of planetary sciences and leader of the Planetary Materials Group at the Natural History Museum, said supermoons come when it is closest to earth.

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    People were recently treated to several months’ worth of displays, meaning they will have to wait a while until they see the moon in all its majesty again.

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    Four distinct supermoons have hung bright in the sky since May, including this month’s.

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    Electric cars: Majority of drivers say they won’t switch until they ‘absolutely have to’

    As part of wider plans to curb carbon emissions, the Government has set 2030 as the point beyond which it will no longer be possible to purchase a new petrol- or diesel-driven car. At present, only 3 percent of cars in the UK are fully electric, with another 2 percent being hybrids. The Government has taken steps to make electric vehicle adoption more enticing — such as by increasing investment in charging points and offering taxation-based incentives. However, the average cost of electric vehicles has increased from £34,000 to £39,000 over the last year — and it seems that this could be putting drivers off from making the switch.

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  • 18 часов, 34 минуты назад 13.08.2022Science
    Monkeypox: WHO to rename disease over stigmatisation concerns — invites suggestions

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  • 20 часов, 34 минуты назад 13.08.2022Science
    Antarctica warning: Ice shelves could be melting up to 40 percent faster than thought

    Antarctica’s ice shelves jut out from the ice sheet that covers the continent, and float on top of the Southern Ocean. Each several hundred metres thick, the shelves serve as a buffer, protecting the ice sheet on the mainland from flowing into the ocean and drastically raising global sea levels. However, climate change is warming both the atmosphere and the oceans, accelerating the rate at which the ice shelves are melting.

    The increasingly rapid melting of Antarctica’s ice shelves is threatening their ability to hold back the flow of the ice sheet into the ocean.

    This warning comes from environmental scientist Professor Andy Thompson of the California Institute of Technology and his colleagues.

    Prof. Thompson said: “If this mechanism that we’ve been studying is active in the real world, it may mean that ice shelf melt rates are 20–40 percent higher than the predictions in global climate models.”

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    In their study, the researchers focussed on one area of the southernmost continent in particular — the West Antarctic Peninsula.

    While the majority of Antarctica is shaped like a disc that remains within high polar latitudes, the peninsula pokes out into lower, warmer latitudes.

    It is here, Prof. Thompson and his colleagues explained, that Antarctica sees the most dramatic impacts of climate change.

    Previous studies by the team using both autonomous vehicles and scientific instruments attached to elephant seals have collected data on the temperature and salinity of both the water and ice around the West Antarctic Peninsula.

    In their modelling, the team took into particular account the so-called Antarctic Coastal Current — a narrow and oft-overlooked flow of water that runs counter-clockwise around the entire southernmost continent.

    Paper author and oceanographer Mar Flexas, also of Caltech, said: “Large global climate models don’t include this coastal current, because it’s very narrow — only about 20 kilometres [12 miles] wide.

    “Most climate models only capture currents that are 100 kilometres [62 miles] across or larger.

    “So, there is a potential for those models to not represent future melt rates very accurately.”

    According to the researchers, their new model illustrates how the Antarctic Coastal Current traps the water released from ice melting on the West Antarctic Peninsula and transports it around the continent.

    Because this freshwater is less dense than the mostly saline waters of the Southern Ocean, it circulates quickly near the surface of the ocean.

    This, in turn, can serve to trap relatively warm ocean seawater against the underside of the ice shelves, helping them to melt from below.

    In this way, the team explained, increased meltwater release from the West Antarctic Peninsula can help to propagate the warming effect via the coastal current — thereby escalating the melting of the ice shelves elsewhere in the West Antarctic.

    This remote warming mechanism, the researchers noted, could explain in part why the loss of ice from the West Antarctic ice shelves has accelerated in recent decades.

    Professor Thompson added: “There are aspects of the climate system that we are still discovering.

    “As we’ve made progress in our ability to model interactions between the ocean, ice shelves, and atmosphere, we’re able to make more accurate predictions with better constraints on uncertainty.

    “We may need to revisit some of the predictions of sea level rise in the next decades or century — that’s work that we’ll do going forward.”

    The full findings of the study were published in the journal Science Advances.

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Science Megalodon feasted on the noses of sperm whales