The extinct superpredator megalodon was big enough to eat orcas, scientists say

The Otodus megalodon, the inspiration behind the 2018 movie “The Meg”, lived more than 23 million years ago. Fossils of the extinct giant are hard to find: Although there are many fossilized shark teeth, their bodies are mainly made up of cartilage rather than bone, and they are rarely preserved.

A research team led by Jack Cooper, a paleobiologist at the University of Swansea, set out to 3D model a rare and exceptionally well-preserved megalodon spine to extrapolate information about the shark’s movement and behavior. Their research was published Wednesday in Science Advances.

“We estimate that an adult O. megalodon could cruise at higher absolute speeds than any shark species today and fully consume prey the size of modern apex predators,” the researchers wrote.

Most of what we know about megalodons comes from scientific conclusions: Scientists have estimated that the extinct sharks could be as long as 20 meters by comparison with great white sharks, considered their “best available ecological analogue”, as they both top the list. occupy in the food chain, the article said.

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 3-D skeleton. They then used a full-body scan of a great white shark to estimate how flesh would sit on the megalodon’s skeleton.

With a full 3D rendering, they came up with estimates for the volume and body mass of the shark’s entire body. By comparing the numbers to the size of modern sharks, they estimate the shark’s swimming speed, stomach value, calorie requirement and number of prey.

The megalodon they modeled would have been nearly 16 meters long. It weighed about 61,560 kilograms, or 135,717 pounds, according to their estimates.

They estimate that the megalodon would have been able to devour orca-sized prey in just five bites — which can be up to 26 feet long and weigh more than 8,000 pounds.

Prey the size of a modern humpback whale would have been too big for a megalodon to eat completely, the researchers say. Eating large prey may have given the megalodon a competitive advantage over other predators. Eating large amounts at once also allowed them to travel great distances without eating again, much like modern great white sharks.

An adult megalodon would need to eat a whopping 98,175 calories a day, 20 times more than an adult great white shark. According to the researchers’ estimates, they could have met their energetic needs by eating about 31.9 kilograms of shark muscle.

The megalodon was also faster than any shark, with a theoretical average cruising speed of about 3.1 mph. This speed would have allowed it to encounter more prey, allowing it to meet its huge calorie demands.

Overall, the data extrapolated from the 3D model paints a portrait of a “transoceanic superpredator,” the researchers say.

Fortunately, today’s killer whales don’t have to worry about encountering the huge shark. The megalodon died out about 3.6 million years ago, according to the United Kingdom’s Natural History Museum, for reasons scientists are still trying to understand.

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