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 The Evolution of Sharks

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Fossilized early shark
© Shark Foundation
Illustration: Orthacanthus senckenbergianus,
Perm, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany

Shark or Fish ?

Sharks are commonly termed fish, even though they are only distantly related to the classical (bony) fish. The evolutionary lines of the cartilaginous and bony fish separated about 400 million years ago. These earlier sharks, respectively shark-similar species, were usually small.

The first sparse fossil finds stem from the Palaeozoic period. Sharks fossilize considerably less well than do bony fish because of their cartilage skeleton.

Sharks experienced various flourishing periods in their phylogenetic development. Up until the Cretaceous period (about 100 million years ago), sweet-water sharks were more widely distributed than today where most sharks, with few exceptions, live in the oceans.

Megalodon

Probably the largest predatory shark ever to swim the world's oceans was the megalodon, or properly called Carcharocles megalodon in the scientific world. It lived in the Miocene period (18 million years ago) and disappeared in the lower Pliocene period about 5 million years ago. Although the megalodon is often termed the oldest known ancester of the white shark due to its teeth form, our current scientific knowledge has not yet confirmed this. Compared to the white shark which reaches a length of six to seven meters, the Megalodon was a real giant who must have reached a length of 18 meters. Its worldwide range covered the temperate zones.

Megalodon
© Shark Foundation
Illustration: If today a megalodon swam into a bay, it could look like this.


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