Megalodon is an extinct shark species estimated to have an enormous size. Recently, Megalodon sharks have captured public curiosity and are even featured in many popular movies and TV shows, including The Meg, released in 2018.
Evidence of Megalodon
Very few traces of the Megalodon Shark have been left behind. Donald R. Prothero, a renowned paleontologist, explains, “Only teeth and a few partially mineralized backbones of C. megalodon have been found.” Sharks’ cartilage degrades and does not leave much information in the fossil record. As a result, most of the information about Megalodon comes from comparing fossilized teeth to modern sharks.
Megalodon’s size and weight are extrapolated, based on the similarities of Megalodon with Great White Sharks or, more recently, smaller Mako Sharks.
Great White Sharks grow up to 20 feet (6.1 meters) long and are considered a vulnerable species. In comparison, the Mako Shark's average size is 6 to 7 feet (1.8-2.1 meters). There’s a big size difference between these sharks. The trouble with getting a reasonable size estimate for Megalodon is that it comes down to the teeth. Megalodon teeth are similar to Mako Shark teeth, but estimating size from teeth alone assumes that the rest of the shark is similar.
Bite marks on Baleen Whales and other small extinct whales have been attributed to Megalodon in some recent research, which may lead to more information in the coming years.
A team of Marine Biology researchers led by Dr. Craig R. McClain reported the largest shark ever reliably measured was an 18.8 meter (61.7 foot) Whale Shark. They believe sharks may not be able to exceed this size because cartilage is less supportive of internal organs than bone. However, another team of researchers led by Dr. Marianne E. Porter found that shark cartilage actually contains a higher volume of minerals and collagen, which allows the cartilage to be stiffer and behave more like bones
In any case, the majority of the estimates of Megalodon size are under 20 meters (66 feet). The Smithsonian Institute’s model is 52 feet (15.8 meters) long, and is intended to represent an average size female Megalodon (female sharks are larger than their male counterparts).
Megalodon would have been larger than the average Whale Shark, as female Whale Sharks average 14.5 meters (47.6 feet). Large Whale Sharks can reach Megalodon proportions. (Quick note, Whale Sharks are filter feeders, not toothy sea monsters.)
The upshot is, maybe Megalodon could have been bigger than 18 meters (60 feet). At this point, there’s no way to know for sure because there just aren’t enough fossils. The Whale Shark shows it is possible for sharks to reach large sizes.
The Shark Week Megalodon Scam
When I was a kid, I saw part of a documentary about an encounter with a megalodon, and I was excited to think it could still be found. It turns out all of the alleged encounters were faked to draw viewers. I am deeply annoyed by this, as for years, I assumed there could still be a few Megalodon around in unexplored deep-sea areas.
Paleontologist Donald R. Prothero writes, “Scientists and science journalists were horrified, and there was a huge backlash against the Discovery Channel for airing these ‘docu-fictions’ or ‘fake-umentaries’ and passing them off as fact. But it was probably to no avail – Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives attracted 4.8 million viewers and became the most-watched show in the history of the network.”
Truth in reporting is important for reasons just like this.
If Megalodon is out swimming around somewhere, he’s doing an excellent job of hiding. Currently, there is no evidence to suggest a modern Megalodon exists, as cool as that would be. :(