Evolution of white and megatooth sharks, and evidence for early predation on seals, sirenians, and whales


The early white shark Carcharodon Smith, 1838 with the fossil Carcharodon auriculatus (Blainville, 1818) and the extinct megatooth shark Otodus Agassiz, 1843 with species Otodus sokolovi (Jaeckel, 1895) were both present in the European proto North Sea Basin about 47.8 - 41.3 m.y. ago (Lutetian, early Middle Eocene), as well as in the Tethys realm around the Afican-Eurasian shallow marine habitats. Both top predators developed to be polyphyletic, with possible two different lamnid shark ancestors within the Early Paleocene to Early Eocene timespan with Carcharodon (white shark line-age) and Otodus (megatooth shark lineage). Their sawblade teeth developed during the early Paleogene as the result of adaptation to feeding on various marine new rising mammals, coinciding with three main waves of evolutionary emergence of seals, sirenians, and whales in parallel with the evolution of these large predatory sharks. Megatooth sharks specialized in hunting whales and sirenians only on the coastal shelves of warm oceans and disappeared globally in the Pleistocene due to climate change and ocean cooling. The cold-water adapted early white sharks have survived until the present day with body temperate change adaptation in warm to temperate oceans and are proposed to have specialized on coastal seal hunting already50 m.y. ago.

Share and Cite:

Diedrich, C. (2013) Evolution of white and megatooth sharks, and evidence for early predation on seals, sirenians, and whales. Natural Science, 5, 1203-1218. doi: 10.4236/ns.2013.511148.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Purdy, R. (1996) Paleoecology of fossil white sharks. In: Kimley, A.P. and Ainley, D.G., Eds., Great White Sharks: The Biology of Carcharodon carcharias, Academic Press, San Diego, 67-78.
[2] Long, D.J. and Waggoner, B.M. (1996) Evolutionary relationships of White Shark: A phylogeny of lamniform sharks based on dental morphology. In: Kimley, A.P. and Ainley, D.G., Eds., Great White Sharks—The Biology of Carcharodon carcharias, Academic Press, San Diego, 3334. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/B978-012415031-7/50006-9
[3] Martin, A. (1996) Systematics of the lamnidae and the origination time of Carcharodon carcharias inferred from the comparative analysis of mitochondrial DNA sequences. In: Kimley, A.P. and Ainley, D.G., Eds., Great White Sharks: The Biology of Carcharodon carcharias, Academic Press, San Diego, 67-78.
[4] Bourdon, J., Ward, D. and Grimsley, G. (2000) The development of serrations on Otodus (Agassiz 1843) (Selachii: Otodontidae) teeth during the Early Eocene—The transition from Otodus obliquus (Agassiz, 1843) to Carcharocles auriculatus (Blainville 1818);
[5] Storms, M. (1926) Sur un Carcharodon du terrain Bruxellien. Sociéte. Belgique Geologique Paleontologie et Hydrologie, II T, 5, 201-213.
[6] Lériche, M. (1901) Les poisons Neogene de la Belgique. Musée Royal Histoire Naturelle Belgique Memoires, 32, 368-472.
[7] Gottfried, M.D. and Fordyce, E. (2001) An associated specimen of Carcharodon angustidens (Chondrichthyes, Lamnidae) from the Late Oligocene of New Zealand, with comments on Carcharodon interrelationships. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 21, 730-739.
[8] Uyeno, T., Sakamoto, O. and Sekine, H. (1989) The description of an almost complete tooth set of Carcharodon megalodon from a Middle Miocene bed in Saitama Prefecture, Japan. Saitama Museum of Natural History Bulletin, 7, 73-85.
[9] Ehret, D.J., Hubbell, G., Macfadden, B.J. (2009) Exceptional preservation of the White Shark Carcharodon (Lamniformes, Lamnidae) from the Early Pliocene of Peru. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 29, 1-13.
[10] Diedrich, C. (2012) Middle Eocene (Lutetian) coastal shark-rich palaeoenvironments of the southern European North Sea Basin—The marine Fürstenau Fm biodiversity and their earliest white shark ancestors. International Journal of Oceanography, 2012, 1-22.
[11] Diedrich, C.G. and Felker, H. (2012) Middle Eocene shark coprolites from shallow marine and Deltaic coasts of the pre-North Sea Basin in Central Europe. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Bulletin, 57, 311-318.
[12] Diedrich, C. (2011) The world’s oldest fossil seal record. Natural Science, 3, 914-920.
[13] Diedrich, C. (2013) Most northern Protosiren siren records in the European Pre-Northsea Basin and the polypheletic evolution of manatees and dugongs. Natural Science, in press.
[14] Applegate, S.P. and Espinosa-Arrubarrena, L. (1996) The fossil history of Carcharodon and its possible ancestor, Cretolamna: A study in tooth identification. In: Kimley, A.P. and Ainley, D.G., Eds., Great White Sharks: The Biology of Carcharodon carcharias, Academic Press, San Diego, 19-36.
[15] Schwarzhans, W. (2007) The otoliths from the middle Eocene of Osteroden near Bramsche, north-western Germany. N. Jahrbuch für Geologie und Palaeontologie Abhandlungen, 244, 299-369.
[16] Cappetta, H. (2012) Chondrichthyes. Mesozoic and Cenozoic Elasmobranchii: Teeth. Pfeil-Verlag, Munich, 512 p.
[17] Ehret, D.J, Macfadden, B.J., Jones, D.S., Devries, T.J., Foster, D.A. and Sales-Gismond, R. (2012) Origin of the white shark Carcharodon (Lamniformes: Lamnidae) based on recalibration of the Upper Neogene Pisco Formation of Peru. Palaeontology, 55, 1139-1153.
[18] Stewart, J.D. and Raschke, R. (1999) Correlation of stratigraphic position with Isurus—Carcharodon tooth serration size in the Capistrano Formation, and its implications for the ancestry of Carcharodon carcharias. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 19, 78A.
[19] Zhelezko, V.I. and Kozlov, V.A. (1999) Elasmobranhii i biostratigraphia paleogena Zauralia i Srednei Asii (Elasmobranchii and Palaeogene biostratigraphy of Transural and Central Asia). Materialy po stratigrafii i paleontologii Urala, 3, 1-324.
[20] Van den Eeckhaut, G. and De Schutter, P. (2009) The Elasmobranch fauna of the Lede Sand Formation at Osterzele (Lutetian, Middle Eocene of Belgium). Palaeofocus, 1, 1-57.
[21] Diedrich, C. (2013) The oldest neoselachian Isurus denticulatus (Glückmann) skeleton from the Late Turonian (Upper Creteceous) of Germany and a revision of the genus Cretoxyrhina. ISRN Paleontology, in press.
[22] Fulton, T.L. and Strobeck, C. (2010) Multiple markers and multiple individuals refine true seal phylogeny and bring molecules and morphology back in line. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B, 277, 1065-1070.
[23] Long, D.J., Hanni, K., Pyle, P., Roletto, J., Jones, R. and Bandar, R. (1996) White shark predation on four pinniped species in Central California waters: Geographic and temporal patterns inferred from wounded carcasses. In: Klimley, A.P. and Ainley, D.G., Eds., Great White Sharks: The Biology of Carcharodon carcharias, Academic Press, San Diego, 263-274.
[24] Deméré, T.A., Berta, A. and Adam P.J. (2003) Pinnipedimorph evolutionary biogeography. Bulletin of the American Museum Natural History, 279, 32-76.
[25] Long, D.J. and Jones, R.E. (1996) White shark predation and scavenging on cetaceans in the Eastern North pacific Ocean. In: Kimley, A.P. and Ainley, D.G., Eds., Great White Sharks: The Biology of Carcharodon carcharias, Academic Press, San Diego, 293-307.
[26] Domning, D.P. and Gingerich, P.D. (1994) Protosiren smithae, new species (Mammalia, Sirenia) from the late Middle Eocene of Wadi Hitan, Egypt. Contributions of the Museum of Paleontology of the University Michigan, 29, 69-87.
[27] Domning, D.P. (2001) The earliest known fully quadrupedal sirenian. Nature, 413, 625-627.
[28] Domning, D.P. (2001) Evolution of the Sirania and Dsmostylia. In: Mazin, J.M. and de Buffrénil, V., Eds., Secondary Adaptation of Tetrapods to Life in Water, PfeilVerlag, Munich, 151-167.
[29] Beatty, B.L. and Geisler J.H. (2010) A stratigraphically precise record of Protosiren (Protosirenidae, Sirenia) from North America. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Palaeontologie Abhandlungen, 258, 185-194.
[30] Zalmout, I.S., Ul-Haq, M. and Gingerich, P.D. (2003) New species of Protosiren (Mammalia, Sirenia) from the early Middle Eocene of Balochistan (Pakistan). Contributions of the Museum of Paleontology of the University Michigan, 31, 79-87.
[31] Diedrich, C. (2008) The food of the miosiren Anomotherium langenwieschei (Siegfried)—Indirect proof of seaweed or seagrass by xenomorphic oyster fixation structures in the Upper Oligocene (Neogene) of the Doberg, Bünde (NW Germany) and comparisons to modern Dugong dugon (Müller) feeding strategies. Senckenbergiana Maritima, 38, 59-73.
[32] Pervesler, P., Roetzel, R. and Steininger, F. (1995) Taphonomie der Sirenen in den marinen Flachwasserablagerungen (Burgschleinitz-Formation, Eggenburgium, Untermiozan) der Gemeindesandgrube Kühnring (Niederosterreich). Jahrbuch der Geologischen Bundesandesanstallten, 138, 89-121.
[33] Dockery, D.T. and Johnston, J.E. (1986) Excavation of an archaeocete whale, Basilosaurus cetoides (Owen), from Madison, Mississippi. Mississippi Geology, 6, 1-10.
[34] Gingerich, P. D., Raza, S. M., Afif, M., Anwar, M. and Zhou, X. (1994) New whale from the Eocene of Pakistan and the origin of cetacean swimming. Nature, 368, 844847. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/368844a0
[35] Gingerich, P.D., Wells, N.A., Russell, D.E. and Ibrahim Shah, S.M. (1983) Origin of whales in epicontinental remnant seas. Science, 220, 403-406.
[36] Thewissen, J.G.M., Hussain, S.T. and Arif, M. (1994) Fossil evidence for the origin of aquatic locomotion in archaeocete whales. Science, 263, 210-212.
[37] Gingerich, P.D., Raza, S.M., Afif, M., Anwar, M. and Zhou, X. (1993) Partial skeletons of Indocetus ramani (Mammalia, Cetacea) from the lower middle eocene domanda shale in the sulaiman range of Punjab (Pakistan). Contributions of the Museum of Paleontology of the University Michigan, 28, 393-416.
[38] Gingerich, P.D., Ul-Haq, M., von Koenigswald, W., Sanders, W.J., Smith, B.H. and Zalmout, I.S. (2009) New protocetid whale from the middle eocene of Pakistan: Birth on land, precocial development, and sexual dimorphism. PLoS ONE, 4, e43-66.
[39] Uhen, M.D., Pyenson, N.D., Devries, T.J., Urbina, M. and Renne, P.R. (2011) New middle eocene whales from the Pisco basin of Peru. Journal of Paleontology, 85, 955-969.
[40] Bajpai, S. and Thewissen, J.G.M. (1998) Middle Eocene cetaceans from the Harudi and Subathu Formations of India, In: Thewissen, J.G.M., Ed., The Emergence of Whales, Plenum Press, New York, 213-234.
[41] Fitzgerald, E.M.G. (2004) A review of the Tertiary fossil Cetacea (Mammalia) localities in Australia. Memoires of the Museum of Victoria, 61, 183-208.
[42] Fordyce, R.E. (2009) Cetacean evolution, In: Perrin, W.F., Würsig, B. and Thewissen, J.G.M., Eds., Encyclopedia of marine mammals, Elsevier, Amsterdam, 201-207.
[43] Geisler, J.H., Sanders, A.E. and Luo, Z.-X. (2005) A new protocetid whale (Cetacea: Archaeoceti) from the late middle Eocene of South Carolina. American Museum Novitatis, 3480, 1-65.
[44] Gingerich, P.D., Arif, M., Bhatti, M.A. Anwar, M. and Sanders. W.J. (1997) Basilosaurus drazindai and Basiloterus hussaini, new Archaeoceti (Mammalia, Cetacea) from the middle Eocene Drazinda Formation, with a revised interpretation of ages of whale-bearing strata in the Kirthar Group of the Sulaiman Range, Punjab (Pakistan). Contributions of the Museum of Paleontology of the University Michigan, 30, 55-81.
[45] Gingerich, P.D., Arif, M. and Clyde, W.C. (1995) New archaeocetes (Mammalia, Cetacea) from the middle Eocene Domanda Formation of the Sulaiman Range, Punjab (Pakistan). Contributions of the Museum of Paleontology of the University Michigan, 29, 291-330.
[46] Gingerich, P.D., Zalmout, I.S. Ul-Haq, M. and Bhatti, M.A. (2005) Makaracetus bidens, a new protocetid archaeocete (Mammalia, Cetacea) from the early middle Eocene of Balochistan (Pakistan). Contributions of the Museum of Paleontology of the University Michigan, 31, 197-210.
[47] Uhen, M.D. (1999) New species of protocetid archaeocete whale, Eocetus wardii (Mammalia, Cetacea), from the middle Eocene of North Carolina. Journal of Paleontology, 73, 512-528.
[48] Uhen, M.D. (2004) Form, function, and anatomy of Dorudon atrox (Mammalia, Cetacea): An archaeocete from the middle to late Eocene of Egypt. Museum of Paleontology of the University Michigan Papers in Paleontology, 34, 1-222.
[49] Bianucci, G. and Gingerich, P.D. (2011) Aegyptocetus tarfa, n. gen. et sp. (Mammalia, Cetacea), from the middle Eocene of Egypt: Clinorhynchy, olfaction, and hearing in a protocetid whale. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 31, 1173-1188.
[50] Steeman, M.E. (2009) Radiation of extant cetaceans driven by restructuring of the oceans. Systematic Biology, 58, 573-585. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/sysbio/syp060
[51] Domning, D. and List, P.A. (1969) Bibliography, and Index of Fossil Vertebrates of Louisiana and Mississippi. Transactions of the Gulf Coast Association of the Geological Society, 19, 385-422.
[52] Johnston, J.E. (1991) Fossil Whale: State Fossil of Mississippi. Office of Geology Pamphlet No. 3, Mississippi Dept. of Environmental Quality, Jackson, Mississippi.
[53] Thurmond, J.T. and Jones, D.E. (1981) Fossil Vertebrates of Alabama. The University of Alabama Press, Alabama.
[54] Welton, B.J. and Zinsmeister, W.J. (1980) Eocene neoselachians from the La Meseta formation, Seymour Island, Antarctic Peninsula. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 329, 1-10.
[55] Fostowicz-Frelik (2003) An enigmatic whale tooth from the Upper Eocene of Seymour Island, Antarctica. Polish Polar Research, 24, 13-28.
[56] Aguilera, O.A., Garcia, L. and Cozzuol, M.A. (2008) Giant-toothed white sharks and cetacean trophic interaction from the Pliocene Caribbean Paraguan Formation. Palaontologische Zeitschrift, 82, 204-208.
[57] Bianucci, G., Sorce, B., Sorai, T. and Landini, W. (2010) Killing in the Pliocene: Shark attack on a dolphin from Italy. Palaeontology, 53, 457-470.
[58] Bianucci, G., Gatt, M., Catanzariti, R., Sorbi, S., Bonavia, C.G., Curmi, R. and Varola, A. (2011) Systematics, biostratigraphy and evolutionary pattern of the Oligo-Miocene marine mammals from the Maltese Islands. Geobios, 44, 549-585.
[59] (2012) International Chronostratigraphic chart.

Copyright © 2023 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.