The Real Science Behind the Megalodon

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Apparently, this dead horse still needs beating: The megalodon is definitely extinct. But The Meg, a summer sharkfest blockbuster set to premiere on August 10, might have you believe otherwise. The film is certainly not billed—even facetiously—as a documentary (take note, Discovery Channel), but if the Jurassic Park franchise taught us anything, it’s that the spark of the imagination needs only the slightest passing breeze to roar into a conflagration.

“People ask me [if the megalodon is still alive] every day,” says Dana Ehret, a curator of paleobiology at the New Jersey State Museum. He adds, for good measure: “The answer is no.”The true story of the megalodon may not culminate in a jaw-dropping showdown of man versus shark—but its legacy is no less cinematic.

In its heyday, the megalodon was a force to be reckoned with. These gargantuan chompers first arose around 15.9 million years ago as one of the last strongholds of a now-extinct lineage of megatooth sharks. Running up to 60 feet long and weighing over 50 tons, the “meg” was one of the largest apex predators to ever exist—and certainly the most king-sized among sharks.

Greg Skomal, a shark researcher and the recreational fisheries program manager at the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, affectionately refers to them as “great white sharks on steroids.” For context, great whites get to a maximum of 20 feet long—which is comparable in size to a megalodon’s (staggeringly formidable) penis.

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