New analysis of the old behemoths says they disappeared a million years previously than thought, raising questions around what led to their demise.

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The beaches were deserted close to Santa Cruz, California, top top December 23, 2007. Temperatures were cool for Cali standards, and also the wind whipped unpleasantly throughout the sandy expanse.

But that didn"t protect against paleontologist Robert Boessenecker native avidly trolling the it will be cold shores. A senior at Montana State university at the time, Boessenecker to be on the hunt because that fossils, and also he soon uncovered his prize: a dark greenish blue this the dimension of his hand—“about as big as castle come,” the says—peeking the end of a cliff.

This rare discover came from the ancient Otodus megalodon, the largest shark to ever before glide through Earth"s oceans. Though movies continue to stoke the conspiracy that these virtually 60-foot-long beasts tho lurk in the inky depths, the megalodon is unquestionably extinct. Boessenecker"s discover on that wintery day instead kicked off his decade-long pursuit to figure out exactly when these behemoths made your earthly exit. (Explore exactly how humans size up to sharks in our interactive graphic.)


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Now, he ultimately has his answer: The megalodon vanished some 3.6 million years ago, approximately a million years earlier than previous estimates. The new date, published February 12 in the newspaper PeerJ, synchronizes with the climb of the modern good white shark, hinting the this shakeup in the marine hierarchy may have actually spelled doom for the mighty “meg.”

Hunting the megalodon

To deal with the cold case, Boessenecker, now an adjunct lecturer in ~ the university of Charleston, and his partner started looking for more traces that the megalodon in California, creating a compendium that West shore finds. They conveniently expanded their search to various other regions, to take a broader look in ~ this ancient disappearing act.

The samples in their cultivation list to be not just ones the researchers discovered themselves, but likewise fossils indigenous the released literature and also freshly scrutinized discoveries in museum collections. Several times transparent this hunt, the team tried to publish their work. And though evaluate were usually positive, Boesenecker says, there constantly seemed to be a reason for rejection, consisting of concerns about the paper"s size (the last version is 47 pages, not counting appendices).

Still, castle weren"t the just ones hunting for clues. In 2014, Catalina Pimiento the the university of Florida and also Christopher Clements the the college of Zurich released their analysis of the megalodon"s extinct using available records. The team concluded that these creatures can have lingered in the oceans until sometime about 2.6 million years ago, a mere fifty percent million year or so before our old human relatives Homo erectus take it their an initial wobbly steps.

Deadly detective work

For the recent study, Boessenecker and his colleagues linked their sleuthing v the 2014 study"s data right into one mega-catalog. But they were suspicious of some of the more recently described teeth and vertebrae. Some samples were broken or chemically altered by the element phosphorus—evidence the they hadn"t stayed put through the millennia and also could be feigning a younger age. Others appeared to have iffy origins, make it impossible to accurately place them in time. Still others needed date readjustments that took an ext recent analyses the those samples right into account.

Boessenecker estimates that they excluded 10 to 15 percent the the samples that lacked the essential exactness in room and time. And as lock pored with the remaining records one by one, a pattern started to emerge.

“It wasn’t fairly Woodward and Bernstein sit in the Library of congress in all the President"s Men,” Boessenecker says. “But the a the majority of boring yet classic detective work.” In the end, the outcomes were clear: It"s likely the megalodon was gone by 3.6 million year ago, with margins that error that typical the date might be as young as 3.2 million years earlier and possibly as old together 4.1 million year ago.

“This is much an ext believable and robustly supported by the data,” states Tom Deméré, curator of paleontology at the san Diego Natural background Museum, that has operated with Boessenecker before and who to be a reviewer the Pimiento and also Clement"s 2014 study.

“I think the is good that an ext research has been excellent on this species,” Pimiento says. She agrees v the exclusion of few of the samples, specifically ones who physical positions shifted end time, or persons that had actually uncertain origins. However she doesn"t have to agree with excluding samples that have a wide variety of feasible ages.

“You may obtain larger uncertainty around your most likely extinction time, however you i will not ~ be disregarding an important information,” she claims in one email.

Multiple suspects

Getting a more accurate check out on the megalodon"s death is critical for understanding the pressures driving the loss of this mega-beasts. Past theories were regularly tied come a wider marine extinction that occurred as the curtains closed on the Pliocene epoch around 2.6 million year ago.

Before this change, the waters were complete of loved one oddballs: toothless walruses, aquatic sloths, dwarf baleen whales, and also more. Part 36 percent of beforehand marine genera didn"t do it come the following epoch, Pimiento and also her colleagues calculation in a 2017 study. Afterward, a more modern-day menagerie started to appear.

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Some astronomers have said the die-out was tied to a supernova the enveloped the planet in harmful muon radiation. Yet Pimiento and Boessenecker both emphasize the the extinct event can have been a lot slower-moving affair, and many components were most likely at play. Because that one, planet was going v a mighty flux throughout this time frame, Pimiento says. The people was cooling, so glaciers to be expanding and sea levels were dropping, transforming available ocean space.

“For some types it may have actually been mostly climate,” she says. “For others, the extinction of those that ended up being extinct first. Because that others, the advancement of brand-new species ~ some had actually gone extinction (via competition). Because that others, every one of these combined.”