Megalodon was 16 meters long and weighed over 61 tons. It was estimated that it swam at about 1.4 meters per second and had a stomach volume of nearly 10,000 liters.
These results suggest that megalodon could travel long distances and was capable of eating whole prey up to 8 meters long. In particular, this is the size of modern killer whales, the main ocean predator today. The ability to eat large apex predators places megalodon at a higher trophic level than modern top predators.
These are the conclusions of an international study published in Science Advances and carried out in collaboration with the University of Zurich. The research was only possible thanks to the 3D modeling of a megalodon that was discovered in the 1860s.
Against all odds, a sizable portion of its backbone remained in the fossil record after the creature died in the Miocene oceans of Belgium at the age of 46, some 18 million years ago.
From a single vertebra to an entire body mass
“Shark teeth are common fossils because of their hard composition which allows them to remain well preserved,” says first author Jack Cooper, PhD student at Swansea University. “However, their skeletons are made of cartilage, so they rarely fossilize. The megalodon spine from the Royal Institute of Natural Sciences in Belgium is therefore a unique fossil.”
The research team, which includes researchers from Switzerland, the UK, the US, Australia and South Africa, first measured and scanned each individual vertebra before reconstructing the entire spine. They then attached the column to a 3D scan of the dentition of a megalodon in the United States.
They completed the model by adding “meat” around the skeleton using a 3D scan of the body of a South African great white shark.
A whale would have allowed the shark to swim thousands of kilometers
“Weight is one of the most important features of any animal. In the case of extinct animals, we can estimate body mass using modern 3D digital modeling methods and then establish the relationship between mass and other biological properties such as speed and energy expenditure,” said co-author John Hutchinson, Professor at Royal Veterinary College in Great Britain, writes Phys.org.
The high energy demand would have been met by feeding on the whales’ calorie-rich blubber, where megalodon bite marks have previously been found in the fossil record.
Thus, a single 8-meter-long whale would have allowed the shark to swim thousands of kilometers across the ocean without eating again for two months.
Megalodon bite marks observed in fossils
“These results suggest that this giant shark was a trans-oceanic super-apex predator,” says Catalina Pimiento, professor at the University of Zurich and lead author of the study.
“The disappearance of this iconic giant shark likely impacted global nutrient transport and released large cetaceans from severe pressure.”
The complete model can now be used as a basis for future reconstructions and further research.
The study was published in Science Advances.