If you enjoy visiting the beach in the summer you're probably thinking you're glad this monster shark is extinct. But it may not comfort you to know there is a small group of scientists, cryptozoologists and amateur researchers dedicated to the idea that Carcharodon Megalodon may still patrol the world’s oceans, perhaps in very deep waters where large whales dive. This concept has spawned some interesting movies and novels, not to mention caught the attention shark enthusiasts both amateur and professional. Even the Discovery Channel featured a special on the Megalodon for Shark Week 2012, complete with a massive recreation of the monster.
The idea that Megalodon is still alive is pretty wild, and fun to ponder. But is it really possible? When you consider that some researchers claim we know more about the surface of the moon that we do of the deep ocean, perhaps it's not such a strange idea after all. The deep ocean has proven especially difficult to study, and almost anything could lurk in the depths.
In fact, there is precedence for bizarre marine creatures turning up when the odds are stacked against them. Some of them, like the Megalodon shark, were once thought extinct, or be believed to only be myths.
The Colossal Squid is an enormous real-life sea monster, with the largest specimens weighing over half a ton. Yet even though it was discovered in 1925 we still know little about this beast.
The Megamouth Shark is another large creature that can grow up to 16 feet in length, but it was not discovered until 1976. This beast eluded researchers for so long because it lives in deep water, and comes closer to the surface only at night.
The Coelacanth is an even stranger case. This bizarre fish was thought to have gone extinct 65 million years ago, until they were discovered in 1938, live and well, off the coast of South Africa. The Coelacanth is a prehistoric fish, referred to as the Living Fossil. While not giants like Megalodon, the Megamouth or the Giant Squid, they do reach over six feet in length.
The Coelacanth is the best-known example of something called the Lazarus Taxon. This is when a species appears to have gone extinct, but then is found alive again. Usually, as in the case with the Coelacanth, there is a small remnant population somewhere that had gone unnoticed, at least by modern science. Often, locals know about the animals, but because a biologist hasn't confirmed it the species remains officially extinct. As well see, there are plenty of accounts of Megalodon sightings.
If such an ancient and strange species like the Coelacanth could endure without detection for so long, why not the Megalodon?
In 1918, Australian naturalist David Stead recorded events when local fisherman refused to go back out to sea after an unbelievably massive shark had demolished their gear and taken their catch. These were experienced men of the sea, familiar with whales and large sharks, but whatever they had seen had frightened them so much that they refused to work. According to Stead, they described it as between 35 and 90 meters long and pure white in color. These proportions seem unbelievable. Could a shark really grow to that size? Were these men exaggerating? Or, were they just confused? If it wasn't a Megalodon that had frightened them, what else could it have been?
In the 1960’s the captain of a 55-foot fishing ship reported that a white shark at least as long as the boat passed by while they sat at anchor. The crew refused to officially discuss the sighting, but the Captain gave his account. An experienced sailor, the Captain would have been able to recognize a whale if that is what it had been, but he claimed it was indeed a giant shark.
In 2012, on an episode of the show Shark Wranglers called Monster of Bird Island, shark researchers interviewed a group of South African fisherman who claimed there was a huge shark in the area as big as their boat. The boat appeared to be thirty or forty feet long. Was this a Megalodon shark these fisherman had witnessed? Later in the episode one of the researchers told a tale of a 30-foot shark he had seen when he was younger.
Though we think of the Megalodon as a giant Great White Shark, many researchers believe it may not have resembled one at all. Indeed, some say they were not even closely related. Did it act like a Great White? Most researchers say it was probably similar, but of course there is not way to be sure. So when someone spots a giant Great White Shark, what are the odds it could really be a relic Megalodon? Viewed from this perspective, there could be countless undocumented Megalodon encounters throughout history.
So what was Megalodon really like? The dramatization below is probably pretty accurate!
Regardless of its heritage, this shark had a set of chompers never seen in the animal kingdom before or since. Researchers have calculated that this massive shark may have had a bite force of 18 tons! A T-Rex had a bite force of only one-third that. The strongest biter in our world today is the saltwater crocodile, and they only come in around 3700 pounds.
It's clear the teeth and jaws of Megalodon were made for destruction. Interestingly, some researchers say it may have bitten off the fins of its prey before finishing it off. That makes the Megalodon tooth arsenal not only powerful, but capable of a certain amount of precision as well.
If Megalodon is still alive today it’s easy to see that all of the above can no longer be true. A massive, 60-foot shark hunting whales close to shore would surely be well-known, not to mention widely feared. So if Meg is still around it must have changed its behaviors drastically.
Scientists think Megalodon young lived in shark "nurseries" like Great Whites. These are areas, usually close to shore, where young sharks can grow and feed in relative safety. Megalodon young may have started out eating fish or other small prey items, and then moved on to larger prey as they got bigger.
So where are the baby Megaldon? They may be living at great depths like their parents, or it could be possible that they they are so rare and so similar to the Great White that when they are spotted they are simply assumed to be adult Great White Sharks.
For Meg to still be around it would have had to adapt to colder temperatures, a different breeding pattern, and greatly different food sources. Some speculate the deepest parts of the ocean, such as the Mariana Trench, may be a place where Meg has survived.
Certainly we know whales and giant squid venture very deep, so it is conceivable that Megalodon would have the food it requires. In fact, recent research on Great White Sharks shows they may dive fairly deep in search of food. If Meg followed similar habits, perhaps it could have made the adaptations to deep-ocean life much easier than some experts suggest.
Unfortunately, the larger an animal is, and the more specific it's niche in the environment, the hard time it has adapting to environmental changes. It's unlikely that the vast majority of these sharks would have been able to adapt to a major shortage in their food supply. An animal that evolved to feed on large marine mammals will have a tough time switching to oceanic fish, for example.
However, what is conceivable is that a small population which had already made some adaptations to a different food sources and lifestyle (such as diving to great depths and feeding on squid) could have survived the die off and maintained a small, remnant population of Megalodon over the centuries.
Even if Megalodon still exists you probably have nothing to worry about. Great Whites attack humans mostly because they mistake us for something else, such as a seal or other marine creature that makes up of the bulk of its diet. If Megalodon has evolved to feed on squid or some other deep-dwelling sea creature they will not making the same error.
Then again, if even one of these giant sharks were to rise from the depths and discover that our beaches and small boats might make good food sources, there is probably little we can do to stop it. It would be the greatest biological discovery of our lifetimes, but that probably wouldn't mean much if you're one of the people on the beaches or small boats.
If it makes you feel any better, mainstream science is unmoved by the evidence supporting the possibility of Megalodon’s existence today. Still, the idea of this monster shark out there patrolling the ocean deep is fascinating to imagine. There is still so much of the ocean left unexplored, the possibilities are almost endless.
[Repeat: these images are stated to be photoshopped-DD]
[For the most part we are being a lot of hype without much substantiation or documentation for the sources if any. Actually there is a problem in assuming every giant shark sighting is a carnivore: most of the sightings would more usually be mistaken views of Basking sharks. The Nazi submarine photo pretty definitely shows one or more basking sharks of unusual size. But also as a matter of fact the Guiness Book of World's Records ALLOWS that great white sharks grow up into the low-end of the C. megalodon size range.-DD]
Jay Cooney sent me two messages after my first article was originally posted and I think it is a good idea to include his links here:
Dale, none of the "evidence" from the discovery show is actually of real animals.
Shark Week Jumps The Shark: An Open Letter To Discovery Communications - Science Sushi | DiscoverMagazine.com
I think Jay overstates this a mite when he says "None of the 'evidence' from the discovery show is actually of real animals" because at least some of it refers to real basking sharks.-DD.