Megalodon Shark Demands Rematch with Predator X and “Moby Dick” Sperm Whale!
Extra! Extra! Read all about it! C. megalodon mega-shark demands rematch with old nemesis Predator X. Says newly discovered “Moby Dick” sperm whale is all tooth and no bite! Extra! Read all about it!
OK, having a little fun here! Yesterday’s post was:
In this post, I compared some of the greatest predators in the history of our planet. I ventured that the crown should still belong to Predator X as probably having the most dangerous bite of all time.
But I also offered the view that the newly discovered ancient sperm whale, Leviathan melvillei, may well have had a killing bite to match Predator X. It certainly had bigger teeth!
So did the first post disrespect C. megalodon, the greatest shark of all time, the ultimate”Jaws,” which dwarfs modern great whites the way a Rottweiler dwarfs a Chihuahua?
C. megalodon was certainly one of the greatest sea predators of all time, if not the greatest—but that’s a point of debate! It is certainly one of very biggest fish of all time, although the largest sea creature that’s ever lived is still today’s magnificent blue whale. And since the mighty blue whale eats krill and small fish, it could be argued that the blue whale is in fact the greatest predator of all time, as one observant reader noted.
Whether a 50-60 foot shark or marine reptile would dare take on a 80 to 100 foot blue whale is open to question! Packs of orca have been known to attack blue whales, but one-on-one, between two creatures, would be a different matter, no doubt. The blue whale is incredibly fast for its size, too, and is able to hit bursts of 30 mph, and so wouldn’t be easy to catch unless surprise attacked. (The blue whale is one of my favorite creatures. Be sure to see my post: The Largest Animal That’s Ever Lived.)
When it comes to comparing these ancient, toothy super predators, I knew what I’d written might be controversial. Why? Because sizing up C. megalodon has always been controversial. So, I wasn’t surprised, and rather delighted, to get an immediate and engaging comment on the post, taking C. megalodon’s side:
According to Wikipedia, the latest estimates of Megalodon are that it had a size of about 20 meters and a mass of about 100 metric tons. The bite force was about 41,000 lbf, which leaves Predator X in the dust at 33,000 lbf. It was more massive than Predator X, had a more powerful bite, had serrated teeth which were perfect for slicing, and basically never ran out of teeth. In other words, megalodon would likely have whupped both Predator X and this new sperm whale if they had co-existed. It probably fed on blue whales and other large whales.
Well, what about it? Let’s have some fun and take a look at the scientific facts, estimates, and theories surrounding these magnificent ancient creatures. I still feel that what I wrote in the first post is scientifically defensible, although some might argue I’m too conservative about claims for C. megalodon. If you rummage around the internet, you’ll find that some predators almost have fan clubs, and there are huge debates and flame wars over which animal is more ferocious than another. But, I think this (non-flaming) commenter makes a good point, so let’s have some fun and look into it!
C. megalodon and the Fossil Problem
The first thing to know about C. megalodon, if that we have no complete skeletons of them—none, nada. Good shark fossils are extremely rare. Like all sharks, C. megalodon did not have bones; their bodies consist of tissue and cartilage. Dead sharks rot and disassemble quickly. Rapid decomposition means there’s little left to preserve. So, what paleontologist usually find are the hardest parts of the shark: its teeth, its jaws, and sometimes, vertebrae.
This presents a problem. As our beloved and oft-quoted Wikipedia tells us, “Estimating the maximum size of C. megalodon is a highly controversial and difficult subject.” Indeed! The reason for this is the lack of definitive fossil evidence. So, what scientists have done is hypothesize that the great white shark is (apparently) a good analogue for C. megalodon. Based on this assumption, scientists then rely on what they know about morphology of great whites to make assumptions and estimates about C. megalodon.
Of course, there are obvious problems with this. And in fact, the most recent hypothesis about great whites is that they are only distant relatives of C. megalodon and actually share a closer relationship to ancient mako sharks. So, we just don’t know, and probably never will know, if our the body structure of the modern great white can tell us anything final about C. megalodon.
C. megalodon—A Controversial Fish Measured by Its Teeth
OK, so if we don’t have complete fossils of C. megalodon, how in the heck do researchers come up with these huge size estimates? Relying on the morphology of great whites, scientists make estimates based on the statistical relationships between tooth sizes and body lengths of the great white. To date, the largest C. megalodontooth measures about 7 and 5/8 inches in length:
Simple, right? If a C. megalodon tooth is size X, then that means the shark was length Y. Piece of cake. Except it’s not. Here’s where the “”Estimating the maximum size of C. megalodon is a highly controversial and difficult subject” part comes in, even assuming that a great white is a good analogue for Megalodon.
I’m not going to spend time rehashing all the controversies and various statistical methodologies scientists have come up with for estimating the physical anatomy of C. megalodon. But Wikipedia does do a nice overview, and there are at least 5 or more methodologies that arrive at varying answers. In general, Randall, Gottfried, and Jeremiah arrive at calculated estimates in the 40 to 50 foot range, and a shark weighing around 50 tons. No small fish!
Well, what about speculated, non-calculated maximum, based on no existent fossil tooth? Some scientists speculate that the “mother of all C. megalodons” might—repeat, might—have reached 60-65 plus feet. Based on one group of researchers way of calculating body mass, this would translate into a 100 ton shark. Is this length and weight credible? Well, who knows? Without the “mother of all shark fossil teeth” to use for some sort of scientific calculation (calculations which are themselves debated) how can we ever verify this? Is it even likely? Scientific opinions actually vary.
Everyone can and should have their own opinion on this, but speaking for myself, I would tend to stay with the conservative estimates that are actually based on real teeth and that use some sort of good statistical/mathematical model: a 40 to 50 foot and 50 ton fish, with 60 feet a possible upper limit for a super fish.. (The largest C. megalodon fossil tooth is about 7 inches and 5/8ths inches long, and to me, that tooth points to the smaller sizes based on researchers own tooth/size formulas.)
Comparing C. megalodon’s and Predator X’s Bites
There’s no doubt that a 50 plus foot, 50-ton fish with 7 inch long serrated teeth has one hell of a bite! Take a look at this reconstruction of C. megalodon’s jaws, and then imagine these jaws connected to 50 tons of muscled fury. A man can stand upright in those jaws! It would swallow a diver whole!
Although as yet we don’t have a similar Predator X reconstruction, compare the shark’s gape with the gape of Predator X, whose teeth were daggers twice as long as C. megalodon’s..
Well, what do you think? Which jaw does more damage to a larger animal, since either swallows a diver whole! I think the bigger, deeper, nastier bite goes to Predator X, but that’s just my personal opinion. You may prefer the big shark’s bite with those serrated teeth. Any large whale in ancient seas attacked by either of these predators was certainly doomed.
So, how about bite force? Here’s where my commenter friend claims that C. megalodon clearly wins, referring to Wikpedia and with its citation of an estimated (by some researchers) 41,000 lbf (bite force) compared to Predator X’s estimated 33, 000 lbf.
This high figure for C. megalodon is based on estimates done by researcher Stephen Wroe in 2008 on the white shark’s biting power. This range for C. megalodon is based on the assumption that C. megalodon’s bite was 6 to 10 times that of a great white. (Again, the great white assumption!) Since a great white bites with a calculated 4,000 lbf, the 6 to 10 times figures for C. megalodon represent a range of possible bite forces of 24,000 lbf to 40,000 lb. The upper limit seems to be based on the assumption that the great white shark is an accurate analogue for C. megalodon and that it could have reached the (to me) unlikely 65 foot/100 ton range.
I don’t know the science behind these estimates or what the basis is for the claim that C. megalodon’s bite had to be 6 to 10 times that of a great white. So, while I can’t comment on the how accurate these estimates might be, I can certainly assert that there no definitive proof in these range of estimates that C. megalodon bit harder than Predator X. It might have, but we just don’t know—just as we don’t know if C. megalodon could surpass 60 feet in length, rather than the more conservative, actual tooth-calculated sizes of 40 to 50 feet. We can argue “likelihoods” all day, no doubt!
And what about the newly discovered “Moby Dick” super sperm whale?
The debate as whether C. megalodon or Predator X was more “bad ass” is endless, and it’s a lot of fun. But such debates are irresolvable, in my opinion, and finally, online debating is not doing science. This blog isn’t a place to debate the issue of what animal could “whup” the other (thank you, original commenter, for the “whup” analogy!), though it’s open to views and surmises that are based somewhere in actual scientific research and data.
So, where does the gigantic, toothy extinct sperm whale, Leviathan melvillei fit in the picture? At 60 feet in length, the size of a modern sperm whale, and with a killer whale-like mouth, with upper and lower teeth that were 14 inch long daggers that fit together like shears, I think Leviathan melvillei had one formidable bite. And it was huge—considerably bigger than Predator X, and probably bigger than most C. megalodons that we have actual physical evidence for.
I couldn’t’ find any bite force figures for Leviathan melvillei, which isn’t surprising, given what a new discovery it is. Since the jaw structure of Leviathan melvillei is so different from a modern sperm whale, there’s probably no helpful analogue comparing them. Maybe the bite force of a killer whale would be a better analogue, but the head structure of a sperm whale is very different from that of killer whales. We just don’t know, as yet, how powerful we might be able to estimate the muscles and jaw structure of this new beast might have been.
Ladies and Gentlemen, maybe, it’s a draw!
If I was a betting man, I’d probably still put my money on Predator X as the ultimate predator. (Again, scroll back up and compare the jaws and gapes of Predator X and C. megalodon.) But I certainly can understand arguments for the possibility of some C. megalodon on steroids as the champ. It could be argued that the serrated teeth 7 inch teeth of the shark might cut better than Predator X’s 12 inch daggers. But Predator X might be able to take a bigger bite with its massive jaws. Again, maybe!
If bigger shark teeth are dug up, I’ll believe in bigger sharks. As for the new kid on the block, Leviathan melvillei, it might be too early to say. In any event, 60 foot-long, 50-ton sperm whale with an orca-like mouth filled with 14 inch teeth would be do horrendous damage to anything it attacked.
Who knows what will show up? Maybe some fossil hunter will find a C. megalodon tooth bigger than the current record 7 and 5/8 inch tooth. Maybe the Predator X that was found wasn’t full-grown and even bigger pliosaurs are waiting to be discovered. Ditto Leviathan melvillei. Or maybe some entirely new beast will show up:
It’s fun and fascinating to learn about the biggest, fastest, strongest, longest, tallest things in nature. This blog is all about such marvels. It’s fun to think, “Just how big might some creature have gotten? What’s the theoretical limit?” The quest to answer these kinds of questions never ends. But always, in science, the emphasis is on physical evidence and theories that are in some way testable or verifiable. Where solid evidence or testability are lacking, then it seems right to me to be conservative about what’s theoretically possible or what’s likely.
All three of these great ancient predators are marvels in their own right, and unlike movie monsters, these monsters actually lived and hunted in our seas. Today’s great white sharks and killer whales are, after humans, top predator of the seas. They—and our oceans—deserve to be protected so that future generations will be able to marvel at the wonders of our oceans and the creatures that live in them.