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

The extinct superpredator Megalodon was big enough to eat orcas, scientists say
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The Megalodon Otodus, the inspiration for the 2018 film The Meg, lived more than 23 million years ago. Fossils of the extinct giant are hard to come by: while fossilized shark teeth are plentiful, their bodies are made mostly 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 models of a rare and exceptionally well-preserved megalodon spine to extrapolate information about the shark’s movement and behavior. Their research was published in scientific advances Wednesday.

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

Most of what we know about megalodons comes from scientific deduction: Scientists have estimated that the extinct sharks could be up to 65 feet long by comparing them to great white sharks, considered their “best available ecological analogue,” since they both occupy the top according to article Stored in the food chain.

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

Using a full 3D rendering, they produced estimates for the volume and body mass of the shark’s entire body. By comparing the numbers to the size of modern sharks, they estimated swimming speed, stomach score, calorie needs, and frequency of prey encounters.

The megalodon they modeled would have been almost 16 meters or 52 feet long. It 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-whale-sized prey — which can be up to 26 feet long and weigh over 8,000 pounds — in just five bites.

Prey the size of a modern humpback whale would have been too large for a megalodon to eat entirely, according to the researchers. Eating large prey may have given the 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 would have needed to consume a whopping 98,175 calories per day, 20 times more than an adult great white shark. They could have met their energy needs by eating around 70 pounds of shark muscle, the researchers estimate.

The megalodon was also faster than any living shark, with a theoretical average cruising speed of about 3.1 miles per hour. This speed would have allowed it to encounter more prey, which would have helped it meet its massive caloric needs.

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

Luckily, today’s orcas don’t have to worry about encountering the massive shark. The megalodon became extinct about 3.6 million years ago, according to the Natural History Museum of the UK, for reasons scientists are still trying to understand.

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