The enormous size of a prehistoric mega-shark made famous in Hollywood films has been revealed for the first time in its entirety by a UK study.
Previously only the length of the Otodus megalodon had been estimated, but a team from the University of Bristol and Swansea University has determined the size of the rest of its body, including fins as large as an adult human.
The great white shark – depicted in the 1975 movie hit Jaws – is a distant descendant of the megalodon and often measures more than 6 metres in length.
Researchers used mathematical methods and comparisons with living relatives to find the overall size of the megalodon, which lived from about 23m to 3m years ago but has attracted fame more recently in Hollywood movies including The Meg.
The results suggest a 16-metre megalodon is likely to have had a head about 4.65 metres long, a dorsal fin 1.62 metres tall and a tail 3.85 metres long.
This means an adult human could stand on the back of the shark and be about the same height as the dorsal fin.
Jack Cooper, who has a master’s degree in palaeobiology from the University of Bristol’s school of earth sciences, described the study as his “dream project”.
“I have always been mad about sharks. As an undergraduate, I have worked and dived with great whites in South Africa – protected by a steel cage of course,” he said.
“It’s that sense of danger, but also that sharks are such beautiful and well-adapted animals, that makes them so attractive to study.
“Megalodon was actually the very animal that inspired me to pursue palaeontology in the first place at just six years old, so I was over the moon to get a chance to study it.
“This was my dream project. But to study the whole animal is difficult considering that all we really have are lots of isolated teeth.”
Previously the fossil shark was only compared with the great white but the latest analysis was expanded to include five current-day species of shark.
The researchers first tested whether the living animals changed proportion as they grew but found this was not the case.
“This means we could simply take the growth curves of the five modern forms and project the overall shape as they get larger and larger – right up to a body length of 16 metres,” Cooper said.
The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.