Scientists are taking “The Meg” down a peg.
An international review of the megalodon, a giant shark that went extinct 3.6 million years ago, has suggested that it was much slimmer than researchers previously thought.
The mammoth ocean predator became the stuff of literary and cinematic legend, most recently with the 2018 sci-fi thriller “The Meg,” which portrayed the super-sized shark opposite action star Jason Statham.
A lack of fossil evidence led paleontologists to assume the megalodon would have a robust and stocky body like the great white, and measure up to 65 feet.
Now, University of California researchers, alongside a team of marine experts from around the world, believe the killer shark was leaner and potentially even longer. They compared its build to that of a mako shark.
“The remarkably simple evidence that [Otodus megalodon] had a more slender body than the great white shark was hidden in plain sight,” said Professor Kenshu Shimada, whose new report was published in the journal Palaeontologia Electronica
A “eureka moment” came when they compared the teeth and spine of a living great white shark with megalodon teeth fossils and a reconstruction of its vertebral column.
Said study author Phillip Sternes, “It was still a giant, predatory shark. But the results strongly suggest that the megalodon was not merely a larger version of the modern great white shark.”
Their findings also suggest the megalodon maintained a different diety and lifestyle than assumed with a more massive shark. The longer body required a longer digestive canal, so the formidable creature would have needed more time between feedings to process meals and eat less frequently than the more truncated depiction.
“With increased ability to digest its food, it could have gone for longer without needing to hunt. This means less predation pressure on other marine creatures,” Sternes explained, adding a hypothetical: “If I only have to eat one whale every so often, whale populations would remain more stable over time.”
The results of the study could also change the story of the megalodon’s extinction. It was previously assumed that the ancient species died out due to naturally dwindling prey in their environment.
“I believe there were a combination of factors that led to the extinction, but one of them may have been the emergence of the great white shark, which was possibly more agile, making it an even better predator than the megalodon,” Sternes speculated. “That competition for food may have been a major factor in its demise.”
Researchers say this “major scientific advancement” could be just a small piece of prehistory in need of rewriting.
Added Shimada, “The continued mystery like this makes paleontology, the study of prehistoric life, a fascinating and exciting scientific field.”