Megalodon was Transoceanic Superpredator, New Research Shows

by johnsmith

Using an exceptionally well-preserved fossil of the giant shark megadolon (Otodus megalodon), an international team of researchers created the first 3D model of megadolon’s body and used it to infer its movement and feeding ecology. Their results suggest that an adult megadolon could cruise at faster absolute speeds than any shark species today and fully consume prey up to 8 m (26 feet) long, the size of modern apex predators.

Otodus megalodon. Image credit: J.J. Giraldo.

Otodus megalodon. Image credit: J.J. Giraldo.

Otodus megalodon, a member of the extinct family Otodontidae, was the largest known macropredatory shark.

Fossil remains of this giant consist mainly of teeth. On the basis of the age, morphology, and worldwide distribution of the fossils, it has been proposed that Otodus megalodon was a cosmopolitan predator that lived from the Miocene to the Pliocene, from 23 to 2.6 million years ago.

Its extinction has been attributed to a reduction of productive coastal habitats in the Late Pliocene, which likely caused the loss of other marine megafaunal species, many of which could have been Otodus megalodon prey, and the appearance of potential competitors.

“Shark teeth are common fossils because of their hard composition which allows them to remain well preserved,” said Swansea University Ph.D. student Jack Cooper.

“However, their skeletons are made of cartilage, so they rarely fossilize.”

“The megalodon vertebral column from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences is therefore a one-of-a-kind fossil.”

In the research, Cooper and colleagues measured and scanned every single vertebra, before reconstructing the entire column.

They then attached the column to a 3D scan of Otodus megalodon’s dentition from the United States.

They completed the model by adding ‘flesh’ around the skeleton using a 3D-scan of the body of a great white shark from South Africa.

“Weight is one of the most important traits of any animal,” said Royal Veterinary College’s Professor John Hutchinson.

“For extinct animals we can estimate the body mass with modern 3D digital modeling methods and then establish the relationship between mass and other biological properties such as speed and energy usage.”

The reconstructed Otodus megalodon was 16 m (52 feet) long and weighed over 61,560 kg. It was estimated that it could swim at around 1.4 m/sec, require 98,175 kilocalories every day and have stomach volume of almost 10,000 liters.

The high energetic demand would have been met by feeding on calorie-rich blubber of whales, in which Otodus megalodon bite marks have previously been found in the fossil record.

An optimal foraging model of potential megalodon prey encounters found that eating a single 8-m-long whale may have allowed the shark to swim thousands of km across oceans without eating again for two months.

“These results suggest that this giant shark was a trans-oceanic super-apex predator,” said University of Zurich’s Professor Catalina Pimiento.

“The extinction of this iconic giant shark likely impacted global nutrient transport and released large cetaceans from a strong predatory pressure.”

A paper on the findings was published in the journal Science Advances.


Jack A. Cooper et al. 2022. The extinct shark Otodus megalodon was a transoceanic superpredator: Inferences from 3D modeling. Science Advances 8 (33); doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abm9424

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