Currently, there is no debate about which fish sits at the top of the aquatic food chain. In fact, it is such a force to be reckoned with that it has become a part of our cultural lexicon. The Great White shark. The largest Great White ever recorded comes in at about 23 feet with most measuring between 12 to 16 feet. With a bite force of 1.8 tons, there are very few animals that can hope to survive a direct assault from a Great White. However, if we were to travel back 25 million years ago, we’d discover a shark that would truly dwarf even a 23-foot predator.
Commonly known as Megalodon, meaning “giant tooth,” this colossal animal cruised the seas following the Mesozoic era. With a profile 54 feet longer than the average Great White, adult Megalodons could grow up to 70 feet. This would put their weight between 50-100 tons. Without question, this is the largest shark ever to live on Earth. While there is conjecture about whether Megalodon is actually an ancestor to the Great White, it is generally agreed that the two sharks share several defining features.
Scientists have deduced that both sharks had a very similar appearance. In fact, with the exception of sheer size, they would probably be difficult to tell apart. It is also highly likely that both sharks had similar hunting strategies. Rather than attack at the same level as its prey, Great Whites usually swim far below, swim very quickly towards the surface and use their momentum and massive jaw strength to obliterate any opposition from prey. This is also a very practical way to avoid injury that could result from a long, drawn out struggle.
Considering extremely similar jaw and physical makeup, it is commonly accepted that Megalodon would have used similar methods. The biggest difference being that while Great Whites hunt seals, Megalodon was patrolling for whales several times the size of any seal. This larger prey meant that larger teeth and far more devastating jaw power was required. Megalodon had both in spades. Most teeth found from this prehistoric giant are around seven inches long, serrated and meant to cut through practically anything Megalodon had interest in. Seven inches may not sound impressive until you consider the largest teeth Great Whites carry are three inches long.
While the teeth certainly are impressive, the truly cataclysmic part of Megalodon is found in its jaw strength. Remember that the Great White has a fairly stunning 1.8 tons of bite force. Now consider that Megalodon was hunting with ten times that force and some paleontologists say that is lowballing it. In fact, some in the scientific community suggest a bite force as critical as 18.2 tons. To give some scale, the average human has jaw strength of about 120 pounds of pressure. That puts us about 36,280 pounds short of what Megalodon was capable of. Put differently, that shark had over 302 times the maximum force we can muster. Simply stated, Megalodon could crush the skull of nearly any prehistoric whale with the same ease as you can bite through a cherry.
As powerful as Megalodon was, it was no match for Mother Nature. When the ice age began, the oceans began to drop dramatically in temperature. While whales were able to press on with their blubber, such massive sharks were not so lucky. It is generally believed that they were able to migrate to warmer waters, but their prey did not follow. The likely result is that Megalodon simply ran out of food and starved to extinction.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult for scientists to learn more about this amazing shark. We have only scratched the surface and know very little of its behaviors, tendencies, or much else. As with modern day sharks, almost the entire body of Megalodon was made of cartilage and other materials that naturally decompose. The only remains to be found are the massive teeth the shark once carried.
One thing is for certain. While it may be extinct now, when it was still cruising the oceans, Megalodon was king of the seas.