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‘Slender’ Megalodon shark research from DePaul paleobiologist makes waves

Professor Kenshu Shimada and two former students co-author new study

Ken Shimada holding a shark tooth
DePaul University paleobiologist Kenshu Shimada holds a tooth of an extinct shark Otodus megalodon, or the so-called “Meg” or megatooth shark. (DePaul University/Randall Spriggs)
From movie screens to science labs, the prehistoric Megalodon shark, formally known as Otodus megalodon, has gained many fans and followers. DePaul University Professor Kenshu Shimada in the Department of Environmental Science and Studies and Department of Biological Sciences has been trying to decipher the biology of the gigantic shark since he was a teenager.

This week, his newest research is making waves, showing O. megalodon was a more slender shark than previous studies suggested. The megatooth shark is often depicted as being a monstrous version of the modern great white shark, but no full skeleton of the creature exists. The breakthrough study is published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal “Palaeontologia Electronica,” and the news has been picked up by more than 400 media outlets, including CNN, Science News, and Forbes.​ Stephen Colbert even mentioned the research​ in a "Late Night" segment on science. 

“The remarkably simple evidence that O. megalodon had a more slender body than the great white shark was hidden in plain sight,” says Shimada, senior author of the study. A team of 26 international shark researchers contributed to the new findings, particularly noticing in the literature a discrepancy between the actual measured total length of an O. megalodon vertebral column and the length estimate made for that specific vertebral specimen based on the modern great white shark.

“The new study strongly suggests that the body form of O. megalodon was not merely a larger version of the modern great white shark,” notes Phillip Sternes, who studied with Shimada and earned his master’s degree from DePaul. Sternes is the first author of the study and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Riverside. The international team also includes DePaul alum Jake Wood.

Contrary to the previous studies on the body form of O. megalodon and some misrepresentations in the media, Shimada says the new study offers the simplest possible evidence, based on the presently available fossil record, without any circular logic or extra assumptions. “The evidence is ‘almost too simple’ to the point that it does not even require any sophisticated analyses or statistical tests,” says Shimada.

“Despite the major scientific advancement in our new study, the fact that we still don’t know exactly how O. megalodon looked keeps our imagination going,” Shimada says. “The continued mystery like this makes paleontology, the study of prehistoric life, a fascinating and exciting scientific field.” 

Read the full press release on the DePaul Newsroom.