Megalodon vs. Leviathan - Who Wins?

megalodon leviathan
Left, Megalodon (Alex Brennan Kearns); right, Leviathan (C. Letenneur).

After the dinosaurs went extinct, 65 million years ago, the biggest animals on earth were confined to the world's oceans—as witness the 50-foot-long, 50-ton prehistoric sperm whale Leviathan (also known as Livyatan) and the 50-foot-long, 50-ton Megalodon, by far the biggest shark that ever lived. During the mid-Miocene epoch, the territory of these two behemoths briefly overlapped, meaning they inevitably strayed into each other's waters, either accidentally or on purpose. Who wins in a head-to-head battle between Leviathan and Megalodon? (See more Dinosaur Death Duels.)

In the Near Corner: Leviathan, the Giant Sperm Whale

Model- Sperm Whale's Teeth
A modern sperm whale's teeth. Arctic-Images / Getty Images

Discovered in Peru in 2008, the 10-foot-long skull of Leviathan testifies to a truly enormous prehistoric whale that plied the coasts of South America about 12 million years ago, during the Miocene epoch. Originally named Leviathan melvillei, after the biblical behemoth of myth and the author of Moby-Dick, this whale's genus name was changed to the Hebrew Livyatan after it turned out that "Leviathan" had already been assigned to an obscure prehistoric elephant.

Advantages. Aside from its almost impenetrable bulk, Leviathan had two major things going for it. First, this prehistoric whale's teeth were even longer and thicker than those of Megalodon, some of them measuring well over a foot long; in fact, they're the longest identified teeth in the animal kingdom, mammal, bird, fish or reptile. Second, as a warm-blooded mammal, Leviathan presumably possessed a bigger brain than any plus-sized sharks or fish in its habitat, and thus would have been quicker to react in close-quarter, fin-to-fin combat.

Disadvantages. Enormous size is a mixed blessing: sure, Leviathan's sheer bulk would have intimidated would-be predators, but it also would have presented many more acres of warm flesh to an especially hungry (and desperate) Megalodon. Not the sleekest of whales, Leviathan couldn't have fishtailed it away from attackers with any great speed-- nor would it have been inclined to do so, since it was presumably the apex predator of its particular patch of ocean, incursions by the unfamiliar Megalodon aside.

In the Far Corner: Megalodon, the Monster Shark

A giant Megalodon shark.
A giant Megalodon shark. Mark Stevenson/Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

Although Megalodon ("giant tooth") was only named in 1835, this prehistoric shark was known for hundreds of years before that, as its fossilized teeth were prized as "tongue stones" by avid collectors who didn't realize what they were trading in. Fossilized fragments of Megalodon have been discovered all over the world, which makes sense considering that this shark ruled the seas for over 25 million years, from the late Oligocene to the early Pleistocene epochs.

Advantages. Picture a Great White Shark scaled up by a factor of 10, and you'll get some idea what a fearsome killing machine Megalodon was. By some calculations, Megalodon wielded the most powerful bite (somewhere between 11 and 18 tons of force per square inch) of any animal that ever lived, and it had an unusual talent for shearing off its prey's tough, cartilaginous fins, then zooming in for the kill once its adversary had been rendered immobile in the water. And did we mention that Megalodon was really, really, really big?

Disadvantages. As dangerous as Megalodon's teeth were--about seven inches long fully grown--they were no match for the even bigger, foot-long choppers of Leviathan. Also, as a cold-blooded shark rather than a warm-blooded mammal, Megalodon possessed a comparably smaller, more primitive brain, and was presumably less capable of thinking its way out of a tough spot, instead acting entirely on instinct. And what if, despite its best efforts at the outset of battle, it didn't succeed in quickly shearing off its adversary's fins? Did Megalodon have a Plan B?

Fight!

Let's not concern ourselves with who blundered into whose territory; let's just say that a hungry Megalodon and an equally famished Leviathan have suddenly found themselves snout-to-snout in the deep waters off the coast of Peru. The two undersea behemoths accelerate toward each other and collide with the force of two overloaded freight trains. The somewhat sleeker, faster, and more muscular Megalodon pokes, wriggles and dives around Leviathan, nipping yard-long chunks out of its dorsal and tail fins but not managing to land that one killer blow. The slightly less maneuverable Leviathan appears to be doomed, until its superior mammalian brain instinctively calculates the proper trajectories and it wheels around suddenly and charges, mouth agape.

And the Winner Is...

Leviathan! Unable to hobble its cetacean adversary sufficiently to take a fatal chunk out of its soft underbelly, Megalodon is pretty much out of ideas—but its primitive shark brain won't allow it to retreat to a safe distance, or abandon the bleeding Leviathan for a more tractable meal. Leviathan, though badly wounded, chomps down on its adversary's back with the full force of its enormous jaws, crushing the giant shark's cartilaginous spine and rendering the broken Megalodon as inoffensive as a boneless jellyfish. Even as it continues to spew blood from its own wounds, Leviathan chows down on its opponent, sufficiently sated so as not to have to hunt again for three or four days.

 

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Strauss, Bob. "Megalodon vs. Leviathan - Who Wins?" ThoughtCo, Nov. 6, 2017, thoughtco.com/megalodon-vs-leviathan-who-wins-1092427. Strauss, Bob. (2017, November 6). Megalodon vs. Leviathan - Who Wins? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/megalodon-vs-leviathan-who-wins-1092427 Strauss, Bob. "Megalodon vs. Leviathan - Who Wins?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/megalodon-vs-leviathan-who-wins-1092427 (accessed November 19, 2017).