Megalodon (Otodus megalodon) was the biggest shark species ever and the most incredible predator to have roamed the oceans.
You may be familiar with this giant shark from movies like The Meg or The History Channel’s Jurassic Fight Club, where they set a megalodon in a battle against a brygmophyseter biting sperm whale (spoiler, the meg wins in the end).
But fiction aside, how big was the megalodon shark in reality?
Like other sharks, the megalodon’s skeleton was made of cartilage rather than bone, so there aren’t any complete fossilized skeletons for scientists to measure.
However, as we’ll see, advanced investigations assessing fossilized megalodon teeth and rare preserved vertebrae pieces have made trustworthy size estimations possible.
Modern paleontologists and shark experts believe that the megalodon had a maximum length of nearly 20 meters (66 ft).
To help put this into context, we’re going to make a megalodon size comparison comparing the fearsome prehistoric shark with modern predators, other ancient legends, and even us humans.
How Big Was the Average Megalodon Shark?
Answering how big is a megalodon has been challenging scientists since 1667. Then, the Danish naturalist Nicolas Steno concluded that the enormous triangular fossils frequently discovered embedded in rock and once thought to be dragon’s tongues were actually shark teeth.
The current opinion is that the average megalodon shark had a body length of about 10.5 meters (34 ft). However, as we will see, scientists believe that fully-grown adults’ could reach nearly twice this size.
Because shark skeletons are made of cartilage rather than bone, there isn’t a complete megalodon skeleton for scientists to measure. Cartilage is quickly broken down in saltwater by bacteria and sand erosion, meaning that all megalodon skeletons will have disappeared millions of years ago.
To estimate the average and maximum sizes of the megalodon, paleontologists and shark experts have had to use the fossilized fragments which have survived. These are the megalodon’s huge teeth and some rare pieces of backbone vertebrae.
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Size estimated for the megalodon have typically used the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) as their basis and scaled up for the significantly larger teeth and vertebrae.
The 2015 study used a collection of 544 megalodon teeth from around the world covering different prehistoric ages to conclude that the average body length of the shark was about 10.5 meters (34 ft).
However, although impressive, this average length isn’t the most exciting statistic on a megalodon size chart. The most staggering figure is the biggest possible megalodon size.
What Is the Biggest Megalodon Size?
The largest megalodon size estimates, including one from 2021 by the Paleontological Society, have concluded that the maximum size for the megalodon shark was 20 meters (66 ft).
Researchers have tried to work out the correct megalodon size in feet for several decades using an estimate based on the linear relationship between tooth crown height and total body length in great white sharks.
The first serious attempt at estimating how big was the megalodon was made in 1909 by Bashford Dean of the American Museum of Natural History. He suggested the shark could have approached 30 meters (98 ft) in length.
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However, this is believed to have been inaccurate for several reasons, including overestimating the variation in the shark’s possible tooth size and the jaw thickness and diameter.
Further estimates by ichthyologists, marine biologists, and shark researchers used various methods to estimate the shark’s length, including different assumptions of tooth and jaw dimensions.
To get the most accurate estimate, the 2021 scientists took into account different tooth positions of 11 different shark species related to the giant prehistoric shark. They used the largest known upper tooth from a megalodon as a reference and eventually concluded that the maximum body length should be 20 meters (66 ft).
Fossils have indicated that megalodon distribution was practically worldwide, including in Europe, the Americas, Australia, and Africa. The shark had an impressive estimated temperature range of 1–24 °C (34–75 °F).
Fossils suggest that the largest megalodons were found in oceans in the Southern Hemisphere, and they tended to be bigger in the Pacific than in the Atlantic.
As the biggest ever predatory shark, it is assumed that the different sizes were likely due to the abundance of large prey.
How Big Were Megalodon Teeth?
The name megalodon means “large tooth,” so it shouldn’t be surprising that the largest shark had some huge ones. In fact, they’re the most enormous teeth of any known species of shark.
The largest known megalodon tooth is 18.4 centimeters (7.25 in) in height and is owned by the collector and megalodon expert Dr. Gordon Hubbell.
Megalodon teeth are triangular and could easily cut through flesh and bone. The collected fossil teeth have serrations along their edges that the prehistoric sharks used to tear chunks out of large prey.
As we’ve already mentioned, the megalodon tooth size is scientists’ primary tool to determine the shark’s length. Several almost complete sets of megalodon teeth have been discovered embedded in rock and have been used for the most accurate calculations.
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The megalodon had over 250 fearsome teeth in its jaws and was laid out in five rows. As with many sharks, the megalodon would often lose a tooth. However, the space would be quickly filled by the next megalodon tooth in line.
What Could Fit In a Megalodon Jaw?
Huge teeth need a huge jaw, and the megalodon jaw size is thought to have been over 3.3 meters (11 ft) across and 2.7m (9 ft) tall
A shark of the megalodon size would take huge bites out of its prey, and it is believed they could open their jaws as wide as a 75° angle.
So, it wouldn’t be any trouble for a megalodon to swallow two human adults side by side.
Not only could the megalodon jaw open wide, but it could also exert an incredible force. Scientists determined that a megalodon could bite down with a force of between 108,514 to 182,201 newtons (24,395 to 40,960 lbf).
This means that a megalodon shark’s bite force was as much as ten times greater than the great white sharks.
Megalodon Shark Compared to Human
The megalodon became extinct at least 3.6 million years ago.
It’s generally regarded that humans (Homo sapiens) only emerged around 300,000 years ago, and even the very first human relation, Homo habilis, only appeared about 2.4 million years ago.
So, luckily for them, no human ever met a megalodon.
However, to truly appreciate the size of this epic shark, a megalodon human comparison is helpful (and even fun).
The most fun megalodon size comparison to consider is human height.
The average Western European male is 1.80 meters (71 in) tall.
This is only a little bit taller than the estimate for a 16 meters (52 ft) long megalodon’s dorsal fin, which measured 1.6 meters (63 in) above the shark’s colossal body!
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Even a taller than average human would be dwarfed by the megalodon’s tail, which is believed to have stretched nearly 4 meters tall on this average-sized shark (13 ft).
The shark’s head was 4.65 m (15.3 ft) long, and the pectoral fins each measured 3.08 m (10 ft 1 in), or nearly two people!
You’d need more than 11 averagely tall people lying down end to end just to match the maximum length of the enormous megalodon.
Megalodon was a massive shark by any scale, and if there were humans unlucky enough to have ever met one, we’d not even have made a small snack worth bothering with for this gigantic predator.
Megalodon Sharks vs. the Modern Great White Shark
Like the great white, the megalodon was a species of mackerel shark. However, modern scientists believe that the two great predators didn’t look quite similar as was once thought.
Megalodon sharks probably had a shorter nose than the great white and longer pectoral fins, proportionally, to support their vast size.
It’s now known that the megalodon was the last member of the extinct family Otodontidae. While related to the great white and its family Lamnidae, they’re different co-evolved branches, and the great white is not directly descended from the megalodon.
In fact, it is believed that the two sharks lived alongside each other, and great white shark ancestors may have contributed to the extinction of the giant shark by competing too efficiently for food.
The largest recorded great white was 6.1 m (20 ft) in length. This means that the megalodon could be at least three times longer than the biggest great white shark.
Although great white sharks are the largest predatory fish today, the megalodon weighed a lot more than the great white’s maximum estimated 1,905 kg (4,200 lb).
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Megalodon females may have weighed as much as 60,000 kg (131,000 lb), meaning that a fully grown megalodon could have weighed over 30 times heavier than the equivalent great white.
Great white shark’s teeth max out at about 5 centimeters (2 in) long, while the biggest megalodon’s tooth is an astonishing 18.4 centimeters (7.25 in) in height.
Finally, megalodon sharks are estimated to have been able to swim at a constant cruising speed of about 18 kilometers per hour (11 mph). At the same time, the great white can achieve a relatively slow (by comparison) 8 kph (5 mph).
Megalodon vs. the Largest Shark Today (the Whale Shark)
The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is both the biggest shark and the biggest fish today.
The largest whale shark recorded was 18.8 m (61.7 ft) long, so it is getting close to the megalodon in that dimension.
However, a full-size whale shark “only” weighs a maximum of 43,000kg (94,800 lb), making the 60,000 kg (131,000 lb) megalodon sharks all the more impressive.
However, it is worth remembering that the whale shark has achieved its incredible size by only eating plankton rather than the megalodon’s more protein-rich diet of dolphins, whales, seals, sea turtles, and other sharks.
Megalodon vs. Blue Whale
Okay, so we’ve demonstrated that the megalodon was a giant shark. How does it match up against the largest animal known to have ever existed, the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)?
The maximum length of the blue whale is 29.9 meters (98 ft), and it can weigh as much as 200,000 kg (438,720 lb).
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So, the blue whale has the megalodon well and truly beaten in length (1.5x longer) and weight (3.5x heavier).
The earliest known blue whales lived about 1.5–1.25 million years ago, so megalodons and blue whales never met. If they had, undoubtedly, the megalodon would have attempted to bite some chunks out of the whale’s nutritious body.
Megalodon vs. Orca
The killer whale (Orcinus orca) is a highly efficient modern apex predator. This toothed whale will eat fish, seals, dolphins, baleen whales calves, and adult whales. So, their diet is pretty similar to that of the megalodon shark.
With the orca, the male is the largest, unlike most sharks, where females are bigger.
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Male orcas can get to 8 meters (26 ft) long and weigh over 6,000 kg (13,227 lb), making orcas smaller and much lighter than the megalodon.
Megalodon vs. Mosasaurus
Mosasaurus was a predatory swimming reptile that hunted in the ocean from about 82 to 66 million years ago in the late Cretaceous period.
So, the mosasaurus never met the megalodon, which is only known since 23 million years ago.
Unlike the megalodon, there are fossil records, in particular skulls, that paleontologists can use to determine what the reptile looked like and how big it was.
The largest mosasaurus, M. hoffmannii, is estimated to have had a maximum length of 17.1 meters (56 ft), making it nearly as long as the megalodon.
However, this animal would have weighed around 15,000 kg (33,070 lb). That’s a quarter of the maximum weight of the megalodon.
So, if they had ever met in the ocean, the megalodon would have had a significant weight advantage in the inevitable fight.
Megalodon vs. T-Rex
Is the megalodon bigger than the T-Rex? No, the megalodon was much bigger and weighed over 6.5 times more.
The Tyrannosaurus rex is thought to have grown to over 12.4 m (40.7 ft) long and stood 3.66–3.96 m (12–13 ft) tall at the hips. T-Rex could weigh 8,870 kg (19,555 lb), which is a considerable amount of weight on land.
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Although one of the most famous, the T-Rex isn’t the heaviest dinosaur ever. That title is widely accepted to be awarded to the Argentinosaurus, which weighed between 60,000–90,000 kg (132,277–198,417 lb).
A land animal weighing the same or more as the biggest megalodon is truly impressive!
The megalodon shark is genuinely one of history’s most incredible creatures and the greatest predator of the ocean’s depths.
The megalodon was a predatory shark that estimates suggest measured as much as 20 meters (66 ft) long and weighing 60,000 kg (131,000 lb).
Megalodon size comparison shows that it would have been able to rule the oceans and take its pick of even the largest prey animals.
Thankfully for the rest of the world’s ocean inhabitants, the largest predators like megalodon sharks are long extinct. If it weren’t, it really wouldn’t be safe to go back into the water!
British-born Dan has been a scuba instructor and guide in Egypt’s Red Sea since 2010.
Dan loves inspiring safe, fun, and environmentally responsible diving and particularly enjoys the opportunity to dive with sharks or investigate local shipwrecks.
When not spending time underwater, Dan can usually be found biking and hiking in Sharm’s desert surroundings.