You could have seen the Hollywood model of Otodus megalodon, portrayed just lately because the on-screen nemesis of sea diver Jonas Taylor (performed by Jason Statham) in The Meg. Seems, that huge 70-foot portrayal of a prehistoric predator isn’t vastly exaggerated. Scientists have now dubbed the extinct O. megalodon a “transoceanic superpredator,” based mostly on insights offered by a 3D mannequin of the really huge shark.
Whales for Dinner
The pc mannequin rendering stretched a full 16 meters. That’s almost thrice the size of a fantastic white shark. Scientists imagine the shark — which went extinct round 3.6 million years in the past through the early Pliocene – may have grown even larger, reaching so long as 20 meters (roughly 65 ft). On high of that, the 3D meg weighed in at an infinite 61.5 metric tons (greater than 135,000 kilos). It additionally might need consumed whales.
“We discovered that with a cruising pace of 1.4 meters per second, that the megalodon, if it fancied, may have simply crossed your entire ocean within the span of a pair months,” says Jack Cooper, a paleobiologist at Swansea College, who was a part of the worldwide staff that created the mannequin. The megalodon’s cruise pace additionally meant it swam quicker than any shark in existence right this moment, the research notes. To hold out this feat, it wanted to chow down over 98,000 energy per day.
“It may have very simply met that demand by consuming whales,” Cooper says. Based mostly on the dimensions of the mega shark’s abdomen, it may gobble up a modern-day orca and different small or medium-sized cetaceans in as little as 5 bites. “It could have used that vitality to then gas that long-distance journey.”
Cooper and his staff used enamel, a fossilized spinal column and a scan of a fantastic white shark to digitally recreate the megalodon. Traces of the megalodon are onerous to come back by as cartilage doesn’t fossilize effectively, he defined. Estimates of its measurement have been predominantly based mostly on tooth measurement or chunk marks discovered on marine fossils from the identical interval.
Fortunately, an “exceptionally well-preserved fossil” found within the 1860s in Belgium offered the staff with that they wanted. These findings led Cooper and his staff to dub the megalodon a “transoceanic superpredator” in a paper printed this August within the journal Science Advances.
Of late, few consultants doubted that megalodon crossed oceans in its seek for meals, says Nick Pyenson, curator of fossil marine mammals on the Smithsonian Establishment’s Nationwide Museum of Pure Historical past. However the brand new mannequin provides much more proof. “It is very nice to see a complete research on the paleobiology of this species. As a result of loads of ink has been spilled about totally different aspects about simply how large megalodon was … and the totally different elements of its anatomy that we do not but have a transparent image on.”
Making a 3D mannequin of an extinct superpredator is actually fascinating unto itself, however Cooper additionally pressured it has significance for the apex predators roaming the oceans right this moment, notably within the midst of a sixth mass extinction occasion.
“By finding out megalodon, and its function within the meals internet, after which by extension, what occurred to the meals webs after the megalodon went extinct, you may get a reasonably good thought of what kind of results you may see if we have been to lose right this moment’s apex sharks,” Cooper mentioned.
Function within the Ocean
On its transoceanic voyages, the megalodon would have performed a key function in distributing vitamins throughout the oceans, the research notes. Showing within the fossil document round 20 million years in the past, it dominated the oceans for round 13 million years. Potential explanations for the megalodon’s disappearance embody competitors with different smaller sharks, lack of habitat attributable to sea degree fluctuations, and declining prey.
Cooper’s paper posits that whereas megalodon could have cruised quicker than different sharks, its high burst pace could have been slower attributable to its lumbering measurement, doubtlessly permitting smaller sharks to outcompete the large for meals.
Its extinction seemingly led to impacts on marine ecosystems, Cooper says, by way of trophic cascades. The disappearance of an apex predator such because the megalodon may have shifted the steadiness, releasing prey populations from searching strain over time. “That’s one thing we do see within the fossil document, we see whales really begin to get larger,” he provides.
“By understanding the processes that adopted extinctions again then with species such because the megalodon, it may give us an thought of what to anticipate and what to anticipate right this moment,” Cooper says.
Pyenson agreed, underlining that analysis exhibits present C02 ranges have already reached these of the Pliocene. “Future oceans are going to seem like the oceans within the latest previous,” Pyenson mentioned. “So, understanding what occurred within the Miocene and Pliocene oceans might be instructive for potential future states that we may even see or our descendants may see.”