A new study provides unprecedented details about the true size of Megalodon, the legendary shark that dominated the ocean up until about three million years ago. Megalodon was more than double the size of a Great White with a dorsal fin that was the height of a full-grown human.
Experts at Swansea University and the University of Bristol used different mathematical methods to quantify the size and proportions of the extinct shark. To do this, they compared Megalodon to living relatives with similar features. The researchers confirmed that Megalodon grew to a length of 16 meters, or 52 feet, and weighed up to 100 tons.
The most powerful shark living today, the Great White, bites with a force of two tons and grows to be over six meters long. At more than twice this length, Megalodon had a bite force of more than ten tons. This incredible force is evident in fossil teeth, which are bigger than a human hand.
“I have always been mad about sharks. As an undergraduate, I have worked and dived with Great Whites in South Africa – protected by a steel cage of course. It’s that sense of danger, but also that sharks are such beautiful and well-adapted animals, that makes them so attractive to study,” said lead author Jack Cooper.
“Megalodon was actually the very animal that inspired me to pursue palaeontology in the first place at just six years old, so I was over the moon to get a chance to study it. This was my dream project. But to study the whole animal is difficult considering that all we really have are lots of isolated teeth.”
Previous studies have only compared Megalodon with the Great White, but the current study includes other modern sharks as well.
“Megalodon is not a direct ancestor of the Great White but is equally related to other macropredatory sharks such as the Makos, Salmon shark and Porbeagle shark, as well as the Great white,” said study co-author Dr. Catalina Pimiento. “We pooled detailed measurements of all five to make predictions about Megalodon.”
“Before we could do anything, we had to test whether these five modern sharks changed proportions as they grew up,” explained study co-author Professor Mike Benton. “If, for example, they had been like humans, where babies have big heads and short legs, we would have had some difficulties in projecting the adult proportions for such a huge extinct shark.
According to Professor Benton, the team was surprised and relieved to discover that the babies of all these modern predatory sharks start out as little adults, and their proportions do not change as they grow.
“This means we could simply take the growth curves of the five modern forms and project the overall shape as they get larger and larger – right up to a body length of 16 meters,” said Cooper.
The results of the analysis suggest that a Megalodon with a length of 16 meters had a head that was 4.65 meters long, a 1.62-meter dorsal fin, and a tail that was around 3.85 meters tall.
“The estimates of body dimensions of this extinct species have the potential to inform future anatomical, physiological, and ecological reconstructions,” wrote the researchers.
The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.