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The science of ‘Meg’: How scientists know the world’s largest shark is gone forever

Megalodon a prehistoric scene 3D-illustration (Credit: iStock)

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Picture of a shark as long as a bowling alley, with teeth bigger than your hand and a bite as powerful as a T. rex‘s. This toothy predator called Megalodon. It was the largest shark that ever lived — and maybe it is, but luckily for us it went extinct about 3 million years ago.

But in the movie “The Meg,” the one, lonely Megalodon is still lurking in the depths of the Pacific Ocean. The attacks of a deep-sea submersible, and terrorizes the tourists, until a team of intrepid marine biologists figure out how to beat the shark and save the day. Is that even remotely possible?

Now, Megalodon was a real shark. It measured up to 60 feet (18 meters) long and is the largest shark that ever lived. Most Megalodon fossilsdate to 15 million years ago. But about 2.6 million years ago, all the evidence of this huge shark is gone. [Image Gallery: Ancient Monsters of the Sea]

To be honest, the ocean is a big place — it covers 71% of the earth’s surface and extends to a depth of up to 36,200 feet (11,000 m). How scientists know for sure that Megalodon is really extinct, and that there is not a rogue giant shark hiding out there somewhere?

The thing is, the scientists are pretty sure that Megalodon is long gone. Here is how they know.

The most common Megalodon fossils are their teeth. The striking appearance of these teeth and where they are found, to help scientists reconstruct the extinct shark size and where he lived.

Megalodon teeth have disappeared from the fossil record about 2.6 million years ago. Sharks shed teeth throughout their entire lifespan, so not finding teeth everywhere is a good sign that the sharks are gone.

On the basis of the distribution of their fossil teeth, they lived in tropical and subtropical waters all over the world, so it’s not like they were restricted to small, isolated ranges where a rogue survivor could hide and possibly be overlooked.

Their preference for warm waters also means that a lone shark would probably not be hiding in the cold ocean depths, and would likely feed near the surface, where they are easily seen.

And just think for a minute about how much food a 60-foot shark would need to survive. A hungry predator beast the size of a bus would be a significant dent in the marine ecosystems — which the commercial fishing industry would probably notice. Giant marine predators behind recognizable brands in the gnawed bones and scars on survivors ‘ bodies (or carcasses). But no evidence has surfaced.

There is no doubt that Megalodon was an impressive beast — but the only way that we now see in movies like “The Meg,” and as fossils in natural history museums.

Original article on Live Science.

 

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