Here's How Strong A Shark's Jaw Really Is

Sharks have incredible jaws with shockingly powerful bite forces. Their secret is muscle. Even though the majority of their jaw is made of cartilage, the same flexible connective tissue in human noses, the powerful muscles that keep a shark's jaw attached to its skull allow it to bite down with incredible force. Because their jaws aren't connected to the rest of their skulls by bone, they can stretch open very wide and then snap shut hard.

As detailed by the Shark Lab, the strength of shark bites varies by species, but the strongest sharks have some of the strongest bites on the planet. For context, a great white can bite more than three times as hard as an adult lion. Others, like the horn shark, use their jaws to crack open crab shells. Other sharks, like tiger sharks, have less powerful bites because they prefer hunting softer, faster prey. Some of these sharks, like the great hammerhead shark, are extremely large and have super-bites to match.

Bull sharks come out on top

There are a few different contenders for the shark with the strongest jaws, but one of the best candidates is the bull shark. At 11 feet long, they aren't the largest sharks in the sea (and their bite force reflects that), but they are still able to out-chomp some of the bigger varieties. As described by marine biologist Philip Motta in an interview with USA Today, "An 18-foot-long great white will still have a more powerful bite than an 11-foot bull shark, just by virtue of its size, but pound-for-pound, a bull shark of the same size would have a stronger bite."

Research has found that a 9 foot long bull shark has the ability to bite with 478 pounds of force — a shocking amount for its size. This is likely because of their impressively wide jaws. These sharks use their broad jaws to hunt large prey, even other sharks, so the ability to bite down hard and hang on tight is invaluable.

A mako shark once broke the record for the strongest shark bite

While some would guess that the enormous great white shark would have the most powerful bite on record, that honor goes to a different shark: the mako. In 2020, a mako shark broke the record for the strongest shark bite force ever recorded — and also maxed out the specially designed machine created to track how hard sharks can bite called the "bite-meter."

After several weaker bites, the mako was able to exert 3,000 pounds of pressure, or 13,000 newtons, on the bite-meter. That is more than both bull sharks and great whites, and approaching the saltwater crocodiles's bite force of 17,000 newtons — the strongest animal bite on the planet. 

Underwater cameraman and host of "Mako Nation" Andy Casagrande is quoted in Newsweek as saying, "To be honest, I've been underestimating these mako sharks from the start. I'm continually impressed by how fast, smart and powerful they are and the bite-force meter was literally off the charts."

Prehistoric sharks

Modern sharks have incredible jaws, but their prehistoric ancestors may have been even more impressive. Megalodon was an absolutely enormous shark, around 50 feet long and possibly weighed up to 200,000 pounds — as much as a smaller blue whale. As described by National Geographic, it is believed that megalodon's bite was six times as powerful as a T-Rex's. Although it's impossible to test, researchers have determined that megalodon probably had a bite force somewhere between 109,000 and 182,000 Newtons –- at least eight times the most powerful modern shark bite ever recorded.

Megalodon's mighty bite force comes from their enormous jaws, between 8 and 11 feet wide. They would have needed a lot of prey to sustain their massive size, and it is believed they might have used their mighty jaws on dolphins, whales, and other sharks. Some broken megalodon teeth have even been found in fossilized whale bones.

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