Shut Up Meg! The Science behind ‘The Meg’ Film
Shut Up Meg
August 10th will be the premier of the movie The Meg; and no it’s not about Meg Griffin from Family Guy. The premise to this new summer flick is a deep-sea rescue diver played by Jason Statham and a group resourceful scientist fight against Carcharocles megalodon that was released from the dark depths of the ocean and is terrorizing beachgoers and fisherman.
The protagonists of this movie discover the shark within a deep oceanic trench about 300 kilometers off the coast of China. The film suggests that this trench extends down more than 11,000 meters below the ocean surface; making the depth of this newly discovered trench deeper than the Mariana Trench’s Challenger Deep (the actual deepest known point in the ocean). According to the scientist in the film, hydrothermal vents down in the trench create a warm environment to support an ecosystem teeming with life within the dark trench. **Spoiler Alert** the scientists’ investigation inadvertently helps megalodons escape from the depths of the trench. This massive living legend heads toward the surface, where they terrorize shark fishermen and beachgoers in a Jaws like fashion.
— The Meg Movie (@MegMovie) August 10, 2018
Is it truly possible for a Megalodon to survive in the deep depths of our ocean? Paleobiologist Meghan Balk of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., who studies the ancient predators, has teamed up with Science News to explain what is factual and false about the movie The Meg.
Is the size of the Megalodon over exaggerated when portrayed in the film?
In the Film The Meg, the Megalodon sharks reach sizes estimated to be about 20 to 25 meters long. The film states they are massive beasts, however they are just a tad smaller than the longest known blue whales. With estimates based on the size of fossilized teeth suggest that even the largest known C. megalodon was much smaller and was estimated to be about 18 meters long. Balk states “that was the absolute largest” estimated fossilized find of the C. megalodon and on average, C. megalodon are tended to be around 10 meters long. This still makes the shark much more larger than the average great white shark, which averages at around 5 to 6 meters long.
Does the film properly portray what the Megalodon looks like?
According to Balk, the movie’s sharks is not an entirely inaccurate representation of what the megalodon would look like. The megalodons in the movie have six gills and on average normal sharks have between five and seven. Also, the shape of the dorsal fin is modeled after the great white shark because it is the closest modern relative to the ancient sharks. Also, a male meg in the film even has “claspers,” appendages under the abdomen used to hold a female during mating. “When I looked at it, I was like, oh, they did a pretty good job. They didn’t just create a random shark,” Balk says.
On the other hand, it’s actually a bit odd that the movie’s megalodons wouldn’t have evolved some significant anatomical differences from their prehistoric brethren, Balk says. “Like the eye getting bigger” to see better or becoming blind after a few million or so years living in the darkness of the deep sea, she says. Or you might even expect dwarfism, in which populations restricted by geographic isolation, such as being stuck within a trench, shrink in size. It is interesting to note that there were no evolutionary changes to these sharks because it is almost as if they were frozen in time instead of reproducing new offspring within the dark trenches.
How could such a massive shark survive on the food available within the trenches?
According to Balk, “there’s just not enough energy in the deep sea” to sustain sharks of this massive size. Life does have the capability to bloom in hydrothermal vents, however the deepest known hydrothermal vents are only about 5,000 meters deep. Even if there were vents in the deepest trenches, it’s not clear if there would be enough species living down there to sustain not just one, but a whole population of massive sharks. In the film, the vent field is populated with many smaller species known to cluster around hydrothermal vents, including shrimps, snails and tube worms. Viewers also see one giant squid, but there would have had to be a whole lot more food of that size. C. megalodon ate many different things, from orcas to squid. The humongous megalodon sharks depicted in the movie “would have eaten a lot of squid,” Balk says, laughing. It is just highly unlikely that one shark could survive down there due to the lack of resources depicted in the movie, but that must be also why these sharks went on a rampage attacking humans. They were most likely starving and eating whatever they could find, but how did they not starve form starvation after centuries of being trapped down in the trenches?
Can Sharks even live in these deep trenches?
How deep sharks can live in the ocean is actually still an unknown; however scientist do find it very unlikely they could live at such a deep depth. “Quantifying the depth that sharks go to is a big endeavor right now,” Balk says. Few sharks are known to inhabit the abyssal regions of the ocean below about 4,000 meters — let alone the depths of oceanic trenches lying below 6,000 meters. Aside from the scarcity of food, temperature is another limitation to deep-sea living.
Sharks that do inhabit deeper parts of the ocean, such as goblin sharks and the Greenland shark. They tend to have low metabolic rates, so they move much more slower than the energetic predators of the movie. Balk says. C. megalodon, although it inhabited many different areas around the globe, they tended to prefer warmer, shallower waters and used coastal regions as nursing grounds. As stated before, these sharks would have to evolve to become accustomed to living in these deep trenches as portrayed in the movie; but due to the lack of evolution it makes the sharks portrayed in the movie very fictional.
Is it possible for Megalodons to have survived in modern times without us knowing?
Sharks shed a lot of teeth throughout their lives, and those teeth are used as the main fossilized evidence of the life and times of prehistoric sharks. Fossilized C. megalodon teeth are found in sediments around the world. They suggest that the creatures lived between about 14 million and 2.6 million years ago, maybe up until 1.5 million years ago at the latest, Balk says. It’s not clear why they went extinct, but there are a handful of hypotheses.
Bottom line: The sheer abundance of shed teeth as many as 20,000 per shark in its lifetime is one of the strongest arguments against megalodon surviving into modern times, Balk says. “That’s one of the reasons why we know megalodon’s are definitely extinct. We would have found teeth to prove their living existence”.
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