In Jon Turteltaub’s underwater monster movie The Meg, Jason Statham battles a giant prehistoric shark but how does it compare to the real Megalodon, and could Megalodon still be out there? We take a look at this fascinating deep-sea predator, the accuracy of the movie’s portrayal, and how we know for sure that Carcharocles megalodon (a.k.a. “Big Tooth”) went extinct.
Also starring Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson and Ruby Rose, The Meg sees a state-of-the-art, privately-funded deep-sea research facility send explorers out to test a theory that the Mariana Trench – the deepest trench in the ocean – is actually even deeper than previously believed. When they get down there, however, things don’t go according to plan. The team has to call in disgraced deep-sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Statham), who is the only surviving person who have successfully executed a rescue mission at such depths.
The mission to gather information about what’s on the ocean floor ends up bringing one of the denizens of that ocean floor up to the surface of the ocean, where Jonas and the team must work to stop the Megalodon before it can turn humanity into its own personal buffet. The Meg is certainly a terrifying sight – but did the real-life Megalodon really look like that?
To find out how close The Meg‘s Megalodon is to the real thing, Science News consulted paleobiologist Meghan Balk, who compared the depiction of the movie’s shark to what we know about the real thing. For starters, if you think that the shark in the movie is ludicrously huge, you’re right. Though the Meg is said to be 70 feet long, in actuality the largest known Megalodon was less than 60 feet long, and on average they were closer to 30 feet long – about twice the size of the average great white shark. Aside from the exaggerated size, however, the Megalodon is actually pretty on-point. Balk notes that it has six gills, the correct number for sharks, and is modelled after its closest surviving relative, the great white. “When I looked at it, I was like, oh, they did a pretty good job,” said Balk. “They didn’t just create a random shark.”
We’ll get into the depth at which the movie’s Megalodon lives later, when we discuss the possibility of this prehistoric shark actually living in one of the ocean’s deep trenches, but the currently known species of shark don’t even get down to a fraction of the depths depicted in the movie (more than 36,000 feet), with few even getting further down than 4,000 feet. So, if you do decide to explore the Mariana Trench, you don’t have to worry about contending with sharks (though you do have to worry about your body imploding from the atmospheric pressure).
A big factor in Megalodon’s extinction was the temperature of the oceans. This behemoth lived in warm, tropical waters, and died out when the oceans cooled millions of years ago. However, The Meg posits that instead of dying out, the shark sought refuge in a warm layer of water on the ocean floor created by hydrothermal vents (basically underwater volcanoes). These hydrothermal vents do exist in the ocean, and they are known for sustaining clusters of interesting marine life. However, the deepest hydrothermal vents that have been discovered are only around 5,000 feet deep.
Overall, for a movie about Jason Statham fighting a giant shark, the science in The Meg is actually surprisingly sound – drawing on real-life oceanic elements like hydrothermal vents and thermoclines to create a scenario wherein the Megalodon could have survived.