Thanks to Hollywood, the jaws of the great white shark may be the most famous in the animal kingdom. But despite its presence in film posters, the great white’s toothy mouth has received very little experimental attention.
Now, Stephen Rowe from the University of New South Wales has put the great white’s skull through a digital crash-test, to work out just how powerful its bite was.
A medium-sized great white, 2.5m in length and weighing in at 240kg, could bite with a force of 0.3 tonnes. But the largest individuals can exert a massive 1.8 tonnes with their jaws, giving them one of the most powerful bites of any living animal.
The jaws exert over three times more force than the 560kg exerted by a large lion, and 20 times more than the 80kg a feeble human jawbone can manage.
Impressive as the great white shark is, one of its extinct ancestors was even more so.
Megalodon (aka the megatooth shark aka Carcharadon megalodon), was a monster that may have grown to 16 metres in length and had a maximum weight of anywhere from 50 to 100 tonnes. And according to Wroe’s research, it had the most powerful bite of any animal.
A single chomp could exert up to 18 tonnes of force; even the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex could only muster 3 tonnes of force.
Being bitten by a megalodon would be like having three African elephants pressing on top of you with carving knives strapped to their feet. It truly was “one of the most powerful predators in history”.
If anything, these figures are underestimates. Wroe only modelled what would happen if the sharks raise their lower jaw, whereas an actual bite consists of lots of different movements – for example, a great white’s upper jaw pushes forward when it chomps and its head presses downward. Nor do great whites bite in an elegant, genteel way.
They frequently ram their prey driving their jaws towards them at high speed.
And once bitten, the victim is shaken from side to side. So it’s likely that an animal being bitten by these predators would experience forces far larger than the already considerable ones measured in Wroe’s study.