The discovery of a dead warm-blooded descendant of the extinct megalodon has raised fears sharks could follow in its ill-fated footsteps.
The body of a small tooth sand tiger shark washed up on the coast of Ireland has been picked over by researchers. Their findings have led to fears that they could be in danger of joining their long-lost relative in no longer existing.
Talk of the megalodon has had a bit of a resurgence recently despite having been extinct for three million years, after it featured in a series of eponymous action films. The family of animals the megalodon was part of, Otodontidae, is now extinct but its wider genus of Lamniformes or mackerel sharks, is still strongly represented by a number of creatures.
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They include great white sharks, tiger sharks, basking sharks and mako sharks and share some similar traits to the world's largest fish, which used to be able to grow as long as 20metres long. The megalodon even shared further unique traits with some of those sharks like being warm-blooded, an unusual shark trait seen in apex predators like the great white.
Cosmosreports that the small tooth tiger shark that washed up on the Irish shores was also part of the lamnids and had an autopsy carried out by academics from Trinity College Dublin. That autopsy found that it had features similar to being a regional endotherm – in other words, warm-blooded.
The research was published in Biology Letters and discussed the possibility that: “If sand tiger sharks have regional endothermy then it’s likely there are several other sharks out there that are also warm-bodied”.
The study’s senior author, Dr Nick Payne, continued: “We used to think regional endothermy [warm bloodedness] was confined to apex predators like the great white and extinct megalodon, but now we have evidence that deep water ‘bottom-dwelling’ sand tigers, and plankton-eating basking sharks also are warm-bodied.
“This raises plenty of new questions as to why regional endothermy evolved, but it might also have important conservation implications.”
As ocean temperatures rise, those endothermic creatures may have to make changes to their natural habits to cope. The very fact that this small-toothed tiger shark was found on the British Isles when normally they wouldn’t come further north than France could be a sign that things are already happening.
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Marine biologist and lead author of the study, Dr Haley Dolton, said: “The discovery… has major implications from a conservation perspective for regional endotherms. We believe changing environments were a major contributor to the megalodon’s extinction, as we think it could no longer meet the energetic demands of being a large regional endotherm.
“We know the seas are warming at alarming rates again now and the smalltooth tiger that washed up in Ireland was the first one seen in these waters. That implies its range has shifted, potentially due to warming waters, so a few alarm bells are ringing.”
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