The Meg in the recent film of that name was a prehistoric shark around 23m long, according to the studio, and bigger even than that if you go by the poster. But until now the size of the extinct shark on which the film was based has only ever been estimated.
Now a new UK study has established that while Hollywood did go over the top, the real Otodus megalodon was still an awe-inspiring 16m long. That compares with around 6m for the biggest great white shark, and the megalodon’s dorsal fin alone stood as tall as an adult human. Its jaws also had a formidable bite force – of more than 10 tonnes.
Researchers from the universities of Bristol and Swansea looked beyond previous studies, which had compared megalodon fossil remains only with the dimensions of great whites. This time they compared them with five ecologically and physiologically related modern shark species.
The study was the “dream project” of scuba diver Jack Cooper, who had recently completed a palaeobiology masters degree at Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences.
“I have always been mad about sharks,” he said. “As an undergraduate, I have worked and dived with great whites in South Africa – protected by a steel cage, of course. It’s that sense of danger, but also that sharks are such beautiful and well-adapted animals, that makes them so attractive to study.
“This project was everything I wanted to study since watching Nigel Marven step into a shark-cage and meet a CGI effect of a giant extinct shark just one week before my seventh birthday,” said Cooper. But he explained that studying the megalodon had “always been difficult considering that all we really have are lots of isolated teeth.”
Otodus megalodon died out three million years ago after some 20 million years of existence, and the only fossil remains are triangular cutting teeth bigger than a human hand.