The Prehistoric Superpredator Megalodon Could Eat Orcas
Big enough to consume an orca in five bites and faster than any living shark: The megalodon shark, thought to be extinct, may have been an even more formidable superpredator than previously thought, according to a new study.
The Otodus megalodon of the 2018 film “The Meg” existed about 23 million years ago. It’s difficult to find fossils of the long-gone giant: Although shark teeth are commonly found in fossils, the rest of the shark is mostly cartilage and is therefore rarely petrified.
Jack Cooper, a paleobiologist at Swansea University, headed a team of researchers who aimed to use 3D modeling of a unique and unusually well-preserved megalodon spinal column to infer information about the shark’s behavior and mobility. Wednesday, their study appeared in Science Advances.
The vast majority of our understanding of megalodons is based on scientific inferences, such as the length of 65 feet that has been ascribed to these extinct sharks by comparison with great white sharks, which are considered to be their “best available ecological analog” due to their shared position at the top of the food chain.
The Belgian megalodon vertebral column, the American megalodon tooth, and the great white shark chondrocranium were all combined to create the 3D skeleton. Then, they used a whole great white shark scan to extrapolate how the megalodon’s skin would drape over its bones.
They created accurate volume and mass estimates for the entire shark using the 3D model.
A length of nearly 16 meters (52 feet) was estimated for the megalodon they modeled. It was estimated to weigh about 61,560 kilograms (or 135,717 pounds).
They calculated that in only five bites, the megalodon could have consumed an entire orca whale. Scientists determined that prey as large as a current humpback whale would have been too large for a megalodon to consume in its entirety. The megalodon’s ability to take down enormous prey could have given it an advantage in the predatory food chain. It is likely that, like current great white sharks, they were able to travel considerable distances between meals by consuming large quantities of food at once
Megalodon adults need 98,175 calories daily, which is 20 times more than an adult Great White Shark. Based on their estimated energy requirements, the researchers determined that they could have satisfied those demands by consuming about 31.9 kg of shark muscle.
The megalodon’s average theoretical swimming speed was likewise greater than that of any living shark, clocking at at about 3.1 miles per hour. The ability to move at such a rapid pace would have increased its chances of coming across prey, which in turn would have helped it satisfy its enormous dietary needs.
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