New analysis reveals just how big the monstrous Megalodon really was

If you’re afraid of sharks, be thankful you didn’t live 20 million years ago when the seas were patrolled by the Megalodon. This monstrous prehistoric shark was more than twice the size of a great white, and now a new detailed analysis has found just how big it really was.

The Megalodon went extinct around three million years ago, and nowadays almost all we have to show for it is, ominously, a pile of gigantic teeth. That’s because it, like modern sharks, would have had a skeleton mostly made of cartilage, which doesn’t fossilize well.

That lack of records means it’s hard to measure just how massive the Megalodon was. Past studies have extrapolated its size based on the proportions of its teeth, using the great white shark as a guide. From this, it was estimated to be between 15 and 18 m (49 and 59 ft) long.

A reconstruction of the Megalodon, based on new data of its size and proportions
A reconstruction of the Megalodon, based on new data of its size and proportions

Oliver E. Demuth

The problem is, the great white shark isn’t the closest living relative of the Megalodon. So for the new study, scientists from the Universities of Bristol and Swansea compared it to five living relatives – the great white, the shortfin and longfin mako sharks, the porbeagle and the salmon shark.

The team found that the babies of all these species didn’t change proportions as they grew. That suggested that the Megalodon didn’t either, which makes it easier to extrapolate its size.

“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 m (52.5 ft),” says Jack Cooper, lead author of the study.

Using this technique, the team estimated that a Megalodon that reached a length of 16 m would have had a head that measured about 4.65 m (15.26 ft) long, a dorsal fin that stood 1.62 m (5.31 ft) tall, and a tail some 3.85 m (12.63 ft) high.

To put that in perspective, Jason Statham – who starred alongside the giant shark in the movie The Meg – stands 1.78 m (5.84 ft) tall. That means if he was standing on the Megalodon’s back, its dorsal fin would reach somewhere around his chiseled jawline. The Meg’s tail would be two Jason Stathams tall, and it could cram two and a half Jason Stathams in its mouth, with room for dessert.

The Megalodon's dorsal fin was 1.62 m (5.31 ft) tall, meaning it's almost the same size as a human
The Megalodon’s dorsal fin was 1.62 m (5.31 ft) tall, meaning it’s almost the same size as a human

Oliver E. Demuth

Our analogy might not be the most scientific way to put it, but the figures that the team came up with are likely the most accurate size estimates we have so far of this ancient shark. The researchers say the animal’s overall body shape is stockier than is usually ascribed.

The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Source: University of Bristol

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