Hypothetical clash between killer whales and a megalodon shark
Were organized pack-hunting Orcs responsible for the extinction of the giant prehistoric shark Megalodon?
BUCKINGHAM, Pennsylvania, USA, Feb. 27, 2022 /EINPresswire.com/ — Otodus megalodon was a Miocene mackerel shark that hunted whales. It was one of the largest and most powerful marine predators of all time – a super-predator capable of swallowing a hippopotamus. It is also (thankfully) extinct. Paleontologists and shark enthusiasts wonder why. We still have whales; what happened to the colossus who once preyed on them? Killer whales are also still around and they also eat whales. Could Orcas have been responsible for the death of Megalodon? Have they eliminated their biggest competitor?
Max Hawthorne, award-winning author and paleo-researcher, answers these questions. Known for his hit sci-fi thriller series Kronos Rising, the “Prince of Paleo-Fiction” is also an amateur paleontologist, with credits including solving the mystery of plesiosaur locomotion. “Megalodon extinction is a hot topic,” Hawthorne said. .“There have been a lot of theories. One suggested that supernova energy killed the shark. I guess some liked the idea that it took a cosmic explosion to kill an otherwise indestructible “monster”. Unfortunately, this theory died out, as did Megalodon. We now know that said explosion took place around 2.6 million years ago, while the shark died a million years earlier.
In terms of interspecies predation, Hawthorne said: “The idea of white sharks feeding on baby Megalodon is interesting. I’m sure it happened occasionally, but was that a sufficient factor to cause its extinction? Carcharodon carcharias didn’t magically appear one day. The two species have co-existed for 3 million years. How many times do you hear about a juvenile great white being eaten by another type of shark? I would have to think that if the white sharks had an impact on megalodon populations, it was not very significant.
Regarding orcas, Hawthorne said: “We know killer whales are pack hunters and some actively target sharks as prey, including great whites. We also know that the white shark is easily taken down by the smarter and more powerful Orca. The question is, could Orcas kill a Megalodon? Hawthorne went on to discuss the two species. “The first orcas were not as big as those of today. Orcinus citoniensis, which coincidentally appeared just as Megalodon died, was a bad customer, but it was only 13 feet long. There were also other orcinine cetaceans, including Hemisyntrachelus, which reached 16 feet in length. Could these whales have killed young and subadult megalodons? Very probably. And let’s not forget that during his reign, Megalodon shared the seas with other macro-predatory whales such as Brygmophyseter and Zygophyseter. Both were aggressive hunters who almost certainly lived in groups. They were larger than the early orcas, closer to the size of the extant Orcinus orca, at around 23 feet. Last but not least was Livyatan melvillei. This beast must have been a nightmare for Megalodon. He was bigger, faster, smarter, had sonar and a ram’s head, and had the biggest working fangs of any animal. Even a single Livyatan could take down a Megalodon. A pod? Ouch.”
Asked about a hypothetical Orca versus Megalodon clash, Hawthorne smiled. “Could an organized pack of Orcas – or the like – send out an adult Megalodon?” The short answer is yes, and with little difficulty. When asked why, he explained. “First, the shark was not as big as people think. It reached a maximum length of around 50 feet (Shimada, 2019) and second, the adults were relatively slow swimmers. Why? Because the bigger a shark gets, the more it slows down. Everything revolves around the skeleton. Muscles attached to soft cartilage cannot contract as powerfully as those attached to bone. Therefore, a 50 foot whale shark can only swim as fast as we can jog, while blue whales 4X its mass reach around 30 mph.
Hawthorne used comparative science to estimate the speed of an adult Megalodon. “Since we don’t have a living specimen, our best bet is to reference extant sharks. The basking shark is a perfect example. Like the megalodon and the great white, it is a mackerel shark, and the two likely shared a similar body plan. In 2018, Jonathan Houghton of Queen’s University Belfast studied atypical breaking behavior in basking sharks. A monitoring device was attached to a 26 foot specimen (estimated weight ~5 tons). During the breach, the shark peaked at 11 mph and (according to the researchers) generated the same energy and speed as a great white. This suggests that a 26ft Megalodon also peaked at around 11mph. A 50 footer would be slower.
Hawthorne continued. “The thing is, a large megalodon couldn’t catch a healthy orca, or most whales. And he would find it hard to get away from them. Additionally, Orcas are adept at exploiting their opponents’ weaknesses. In this case, there are several. Speed is the first, the next; the shark only has teeth at one end. The killer whales avoided the head by harassing it, tearing its fins, tail and genital area. Imagine a squadron of WWII Messerschmitt fighter jets pursuing a B-24 Liberator bomber with a nose gun only. Hawthorne added: “But the Achilles’ heel of the megalodon is, like the great white shark, mako and related salmon, it was an obligatory ram fan. This means he had to keep swimming to breathe. If he stopped, he would die. Orcas attack the flukes of blue whales several times the size of a megalodon and stop them dead in the water. They would do the same to the shark – grab its tail and, while it choked, beat it to death.
“Has this happened to Megalodon with other species?” Hawthorne offered. ” Probably. It’s also possible that proto-orcas did the same thing to babies and subadult sharks. Did this cause Megalodon to disappear? I think the loss of prey, i.e. the extinction of the small baleen whales it fed on, was the main reason for this. But I’m sure losing individuals here and there to rival predators hasn’t helped anyone.
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