New York (AFP) – Today’s sharks have nothing to do with their ancient cousins. A new study has found that a giant shark that roamed the oceans millions of years ago could have devoured a creature the size of a killer whale in just five bites.
In their study published Wednesday, the researchers used fossil evidence to create a 3-D model of megalodon – one of the largest predatory fish of all time – and find clues about its life.
At about 50 feet (16 m) from nose to tail, megalodon was larger than a school bus, according to Study in Science Advances. That’s roughly two to three times the size of today’s great white shark. Megalodon’s widening jaw allowed it to feed on other large creatures. Researchers suggest that once it fills its massive stomach, it can roam the oceans for months at a time.
The megalodon was also a strong swimmer: It had an average sailing speed faster than today’s sharks and could have traveled across multiple oceans with ease, they calculated.
“It’s going to be a super predator that only controls its ecosystem,” said co-author John Hutchinson, who studies the evolution of animal locomotion at the Royal Veterinary College of England. “There’s really nothing quite like it.”
It has been difficult for scientists to get a clear picture of megalodon, said study author Catalina Pimento, a paleobiologist at the University of Zurich and Swansea University in Wales.
Pimento said the skeleton is made of soft cartilage that does not ossify well. So scientists have used the few fossils available, including a rare set of vertebrae that have been in the Belgium Museum since the 1860s.
The researchers also brought huge teeth into the jaw, Hutchinson said, each about the size of a human fist. Surveys of modern white sharks helped capture the rest.
Based on their digital ingenuity, the researchers estimated that megalodon would have weighed about 70 tons, or as much as 10 elephants.
Even other high-level predators may have had luncheon meat for megalodon, which can open its jaws to nearly 6 feet (2 metres), Pimento said.
Megalodon lived 23 million to 2.6 million years ago.
Because megalodon fossils are so rare, these types of models require a “leap of imagination,” said Michael Gottfried, a Michigan State University paleontologist who was not involved in the study. But he said the study results are reasonable based on what is known about the giant shark.
The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Division of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.
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