A new study concerning the extinct shark, the megalodon, has concluded that they were a longer and more slender fish than they were initially thought to be. Sternes et al (2024) published their paper, ‘White shark comparison reveals a slender body for the extinct megatooth shark, Otodus megalodon (Lamniformes: Otodontidae)’ in Palaeontologia Electronica, claiming that previous research on the megalodon’s body size, “are likely underestimated”.
The study was conducted in the United States and used a CT scanner on a live great white shark’s vertebral skeleton and compared it to the fragments of a megalodon’s vertebrae. The megalodon has been thought to resemble the great white’s stature, only triple the size.
In the United Kingdom, Cooper et al carried out a similar study at the University of Swansea, entitled ‘The extinct shark Otodus megalodon was a transoceanic superpredator: Inferences from 3D modelling’, which inferred that the megalodon was bigger and faster than previous research had found.
This study used 3D modelling to compare several species of sharks to determine the size of the megalodon. Sternes et al’s study, if correct, would mean a complete scientific re-evaluation of megalodons, from what they ate, to their lifestyle and extinction. However, only the teeth and vertebral column of the shark exist, so they would need as much of the skeleton to prove their findings.
The vertebrae are said to be around 9-11 metres long, so whether the megalodon was skinnier than previously thought, it’s in agreement that the apex predator was still huge - both the biggest fish to exist, as well as the biggest predator too.
The megalodon shark was first named by Louis Agassiz, a naturalist from Switzerland, in 1835 as the Carcharias megalodon. It is now referred to as the Otodus megalodon, which translates to “big tooth”. The megalodon went extinct about 3.5 million years ago, it was alive from the Early Miocene epoch to the Pliocene epoch. It is uncertain the exact reason they went extinct, but scientists believe it was due to climate change, where the oceans began cooling and the changing of ecosystems causing a lack of prey for megalodons.
The shark was thought to have been about 50-65 feet (15-20 metres) and their teeth are almost eight inches in length. Research into the megalodon has used the great white shark as an estimation for their shaping, but this new study suggests they resembled mako sharks' body shapes more. Great white sharks can grow up to 20 feet long, and are the largest predatory fish, known for their torpedo-shaped body, whereas mako sharks are much slimmer and smaller.
The group of scientists who have conducted recent studies on megalodons are in disagreement about their bodily appearance, with Cooper et al claiming the shark was “markedly longer than previously estimated” as well as having a body mass that is “23% higher than that previously inferred” and “was able to cruise faster than all extant species analysed”.
Cooper criticised Sternes et al's study by stating that the megalodon was only compared to a great white, whereas his study used various species of sharks. The narrowness of the new study ultimately may bring down its validity in the science world.
Edited by Chloe Mansola
Image ‘Guadalupe Island Great White Shark Underwater Tourism’ by Sharkcrew licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0
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