To date, only the length of the famed Megalodon giant shark has been measured. But now, the University of Bristol and Swansea University’s latest research has disclosed the scale of the majority of the anatomy, including fins that are as big as an adult human being.
In deciding the scale of the biggest sharks, there is a gritty curiosity, but for fossil types where teeth are sometimes all that remain, this may be challenging.
The Great White, about six metres (20 feet ) tall, which bites with a power of two tons, is the most intimidating live shark today.
His extinct ancestor, the great tooth shark Megalodon, the hero of Hollywood film, existed more than twice the length of the Great White and had a bite power of over ten tons, from 23 to around three million years ago.
The Megalodon fossils are mainly massive triangular cutting teeth wider than a human fist.
By strongly contrasting the variety of living relatives with biological and physiological parallels to Megalodon, Jack Cooper, who has just completed an MSc in Palaeobiology at the University of Bristol ‘s School of Earth Sciences, and colleagues from Bristol and Swansea have used a range of statistical approaches to pin down the scale and proportions of this creature.
The research was overseen by Dr. Catalina Pimiento of Swansea University, a shark specialist, and Professor Mike Benton, a Bristol palaeontologist. Also collaborating was Dr Humberto Ferrón of Bristol.
Today their analyses are published in the journal Research Papers.
I’ve always been crazy about sharks, Jack Cooper said. As an undergraduate, I operated and dived in South Africa with Great Whites — protected, of course, by a steel cage. It’s the sense of risk, but it’s also the sharks are such majestic and well-adapted creatures that make them so appealing to research.
Megalodon was really the very species that motivated me at only six years of age to try palaeontology in the first place, so I was over the moon to get a chance to research it.
“This was my dream goal. But it is challenging to research the entire animal, given that tons of individual teeth are what we really have.”
The fossil fish, officially identified as Otodus megalodon, was historically just related to the Great White. For the first time, Jack and his collaborators extended this study to involve five contemporary sharks.
“Dr. Pimiento said:” Megalodon is not a clear relative to the Great White, but is linked similarly to other macropredatory sharks, such as the Makos, Salmon shark and Porbeagle shark, as well as the Great White. To make observations regarding Megalodon, we pooled thorough measurements of all five.
“Professor Benton added:” We had to assess if these five contemporary sharks altered proportions when they grew up before we could do something. If, for example, they were like people, where babies had big heads and small legs, we may have had some problems predicting the proportions of adults with such a large extinct shark.
“Yet we were shocked and delighted to find that the babies of all these current juvenile sharks simply start off as tiny adults and do not shift in proportion as they develop bigger.”
“This suggests that we might actually take the development curves of the five typical types and project the ultimate shape as they become larger and larger — up to a body length of 16 meters,” Jack Cooper said.
The findings imply that a 16-meter-long Otodus megalodon was likely to have a head about 4.65 meters high, a dorsal fin around 1.62 meters wide, and a tail about 3.85 meters tall.
This suggests that on the back of this fish, an adult individual might stand and would reach around the same height as the dorsal fin.
The recreation of the scale of the body sections of Megalodon is a fundamental move towards a deeper understanding of this giant ‘s physiology and the underlying variables that could have made it vulnerable to extinction.