Faster than any shark alive today and big enough to eat an orca in just five bites: new study suggests the extinct shark known as megalodon was an even more impressive apex predator than scientists previously thought.
The megalodon Otodus, the inspiration behind the 2018 film “The Meg”, lived over 23 million years ago. Fossils of the extinct giant are hard to find: although there are many fossilized shark teeth, their bodies are mostly made of cartilage rather than bone and are rarely preserved.
A research team led by Jack Cooper, a paleobiologist at Swansea University, set out to use 3D modeling from a rare and exceptionally well-preserved megalodon spine to extrapolate information about the movements and behavior of the shark. Their research has been published in Scientists progress Wednesday.
“We estimate that an adult O. megalodon could navigate at faster absolute speeds than any shark species today and fully consume prey the size of modern predators,” the researchers wrote.
Most of what we know about megalodons comes from scientific inference: Scientists have estimated that extinct sharks could grow up to 65ft through comparison with great white sharks, considered their “best available ecological analogue” , since they both occupy the vertex. a rung in the food chain, according to the article.
The researchers used a megalodon spine from Belgium, a tooth from the United States and the chondrocranium – the cartilaginous equivalent of a skull – from a great white shark to build their 3D skeleton. Next, they used a full-body scan of a great white shark to estimate how the flesh would sit on the megalodon’s skeleton.
With full 3D rendering, they came up with estimates of the volume and body mass of the shark’s entire body. By comparing the numbers to the size of modern sharks, they estimated the shark’s swimming speed, stomach value, caloric requirements and prey encounter rates.
The megalodon they modeled would have been nearly 16 meters or 52 feet long. He weighed around 61,560 kilograms, or 135,717 pounds, according to their estimates.
They estimated that the megalodon would have been able to devour orca-sized prey – which can be up to 26 feet long and weigh more than 8,000 pounds – in just five bites.
According to the researchers, prey the size of a modern humpback whale would have been too large for a megalodon to eat whole. Eating large prey may have given megalodon a competitive advantage over other predators. Eating large amounts at once would also have allowed them to travel great distances without eating again, much like modern great white sharks.
An adult megalodon should have eaten 98,175 calories per day, 20 times more than an adult great white shark. They could have met their energy needs by eating about 31.9 kilograms of shark muscle, the researchers estimate.
The megalodon was also faster than any living shark, with a theoretical average cruising speed of around 3.1 mph. This speed would have allowed it to encounter more prey, helping it to meet its enormous caloric needs.
Overall, the data extrapolated from the 3D model paints the portrait of a “transoceanic superpredator”, specify the researchers.
Luckily, today’s killer whales don’t have to worry about running into the huge shark. The megalodon died out around 3.6 million years ago, according to the UK’s Natural History Museum, for reasons scientists are still trying to figure out.