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How Big Was Megalodon Really?

From Audio: 010 - Here be monsters with Tyler Greenfield

station description Discussion about all things deep-sea science.
The Deep-Sea Podcast
Duration: 05:49
Theories about megalodon's size have reached up to 120 feet in the popular imagination, but what can a cryptozoologist tell us about the accuracy of these estimates?
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Theories about megalodon's size have reached up to 120 feet in the popular imagination, but what can a cryptozoologist tell us about the accuracy of these estimates? The image most people have of megalodon—that of a hundred-foot shark larger than a city bus—was drawn from a study done in the 1950s. These days, researchers using modern technology believe that the megs was closer to 40-60 feet in length.
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organically on twitter before we were sort of introduced with this idea. So I'm guilty perpetuating a myth. I used to say that we only know about megalodon from teeth because of the cartilaginous skeleton and I'm not sure if it was a tweet directly from you or a tweet from someone else just saying, you know, stop saying this and then a link to your blog post about it. And so I I I totally held my hands up and like, yes, new information. This is brilliant. What one of the angles I try and push and I think the philosophy you should have as a scientist is, there's nothing better than being wrong because that means that there's a whole new thing to learn. Your preconceptions are off and you've got a new area to sort of discover. Can you talk us through that megalodon of course, is enjoying a bit of fame right now because of all those highly accurate films. Yeah, so there is a very common misconception that not only megalodon, but extinct sharks in general that we only know about them from their teeth. You'll see this kind of claim brought up all the time, whether it's in books, movies, even documentaries, they repeat this talking point all the all the time that we don't know much about extinct sharks because we only have their teeth. And as someone who really likes sharks and studies them a lot. This is just an absurd claim. We have many, many species of extinct sharks that we have body fossils of. We have their skeletons, we have their soft tissues, their skin, their scales, their fins, Some are 100% complete and megalodon is no exception. We don't have any soft tissues from Megalodon, but we do have skeletal remains. We have vertebrae, we also do have some isolated scales from it and then we have from close relatives, not meddle it on itself, but from close relatives. We do have the remains of the jaws, actually not just the teeth. So we do actually know a great deal about what megalodon would have looked like from the skeletal remains. We think it would have been pretty similar to what a great white looked like, although way bigger and probably bulkier since it was much larger. So it's it's very wrong to say that we don't know what it looked like because we do have a lot of good evidence, including that skeletal evidence. Oh and another another part we do have that's possibly from megalodon but may also be from a relative is actually the cartilage from the end of the nose. And it shows us that it probably had a very robust blunts. Now they actually went misidentified for a long time. It was thought they belonged to poor Beagle sharks, which are still alive today. So if you can imagine a poor beagle or or a salmon shark, same genus, um, that's pretty much what a mega it on his face would have lifelike, although much much larger. And so are sort of estimates of the, of the size. That's that's fairly confident now. Yes, So back in the days before the skeletal material was really studied, talking like 100 years ago, there were some insane estimates, her megalodon size. We're talking Between 80 and 120 ft long, which is massive. That's bigger than a blue whale at it's Vegas. And that's not the case. We don't think that anymore. Based on refined methods of estimating size from the teeth and from the vertebra, we think between 50 and 60 ft is more likely. Although there may be bigger individuals that would be in like the 65 ft range. We're not 100% certain because there still are some flaws with the methodology. We don't have a complete skeleton, which is a partial remains. So there still is a little bit of uncertainty. We can be fairly confident that it wasn't 100 or more feet long, but it's still plenty big. It's big enough for me. Do you find that the old estimates because they're more exciting tend to be the ones that end up maybe in more popular culture or end up getting cited for a little extra excitement because we, whenever we see like a colossal and giant squid talked about in the media, they show them next to like a London bus and things like that. And it's, it's this old estimate where the animal was much much bigger. They favor that one because it looks more exciting. Like we've got a pretty good idea. We've got a lot of specimens now of both of those and we've got a better idea of the size, but it's still plenty big. Yeah, you are spot on. The bigger estimates are all over in popular culture. Even though they've been known to be false for 50 or more years. You'll still see whether it be the fake documentaries that discovery channel put out or the meg, the recent movie Or any sort of books. A lot of cryptozoology stuff too will say that Megalodon was between 80 and 120 ft long because that, that attracts people. That's it's a very romantic idea of what this shark would have been like is of course nowhere near that big. But it sells, you know. Yeah. And you can cite, you can still site a publication which adds validity to it. You can still site a scientist who was like, I've only got this piece and sort of guessing it might be around here. But then you can still say it's peer reviewed literature, but you've selectively chosen the out of date piece of information. They do that there One of the older estimates of in sort of that 80-100 foot range comes from a reconstruction of the jaws that was completed in 19 oh eight or 19 oh nine. I can't remember which here at the American Museum of Natural History and they calculated that absurd length from this reconstructed jaw. But the problem is they reconstructed the teeth completely wrong. They used just the very front anterior teeth and they put it throughout the entire jaw. So throughout the entire jaw all the teeth are huge and are roughly the same size. So it just, it led to this completely overblown estimate. And yet you still see people cite that as if it's reliable. It's a matter of kind of resolution, like we've we've homed in.
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