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Giant megalodon shark could eat a whale in a few bites, scientists find

Superpredator dominated ecosystem, say researchers who built 3D model

Jane Dalton
Thursday 18 August 2022 13:20 BST
The 50ft megalodon weighed as much as 10 elephants
The 50ft megalodon weighed as much as 10 elephants (J.J.Giraldo)

A giant shark that swam in the world’s oceans millions of years ago could devour prey up to 26ft long – the size of a killer whale – in just five bites, scientists say they have discovered.

Researchers used fossil evidence to create a 3D model of the megalodon, one of the biggest predatory fish of all time, which lived an estimated 23 million to 2.6 million years ago.

At around 50ft long from nose to tail, the megalodon was bigger than a school bus – about two to three times the size of today’s great white shark, according to the study in the journal Science Advances.

Researchers calculated that the megalodon would have weighed around 70 tons – as much as 10 elephants.

The giant fish required more than 98,000 calories a day – that’s 49 times as many as a woman – and had a stomach volume of almost 10,000 litres. To allow it to consume so much, its jaw opened to almost 6ft wide.

The megalodon migrated across oceans with ease for months at a time, the researchers say. It was a strong swimmer, with an average cruising speed higher than today’s sharks.

“It would be a superpredator just dominating its ecosystem,” said co-author John Hutchinson, of the Royal Veterinary College. “There is nothing really matching it.”

The researchers built their 3D model after a vertebral column from a megalodon that died 18 million years ago aged 46 was found in fossils in the oceans of Belgium. The vertebrae had been at a Belgian museum since the 1860s.

The researchers said: “The novel biological inferences drawn from this study represent a leap in our knowledge of this singular super-predator and help to better understand the ecological function that megafaunal species play in marine ecosystems, and the large-scale consequences of their extinction.”

Previous research has found megalodons grew to larger sizes in cooler waters than in warmer areas.

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