Today’s factismal: The megalodon shark died out about 2.5 million years ago. No matter what the Discovery Channel says.
If there is one thing that Star Trek teaches us, it is that some sequels are worth watching (e.g., Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) but others are a waste of good popcorn (e.g., Star Trek III: The Search for Plot). This year, we’ve gotten two from the latter category. First, SyFy aired Sharknado 2: The Second One which, to be fair, spent a lot of time joking about the first one and actually had a grain of science at its root (in the same sense that a nursery rhyme might reflect politics). But then Discovery Channel doubled down on last’ years debacle and decided to re-air Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives complete with yet more “evidence” of that the shark still “lives”. Of course, given that the Discovery Channel’s “evidence” consists mainly of statements from scientists that were obtained under false pretenses and have been taken out of context and heavily edited, you shouldn’t place much reliance on them. To put things as bluntly as possible, the Discover Channel’s show wasn’t science, it wasn’t entertaining, and it wasn’t worth a megalodon’s coprolite.
But there’s always a bright side to this sort of nonsense, and here’s the bright side for this one: it has gotten people to talking about one of the world’s coolest sharks. Megalodon (bio-speak for “huge tooth”) is mostly known from fossils of its teeth, which are typically about the size of a dinner plate (explains the name, huh?). In addition to their teeth, fossilized megalodon skeletons have been found, thanks to the fact that they had a partially calcified skeleton instead of the pure cartilage skeleton of most sharks. Though they looked a lot like a Great White shark on steroids, they were probably more closely related to the Mako (though this is still controversial in the paleontological community).
So how big did a megalodon get? Let’s put it this way: you’d need an aquarium the size of the Gulf of Mexico if you wanted to keep one as a pet. A full-grown megalodon was up to 60 ft long and four of them would weigh as much as a blue whale. And that’s not surprising, considering that they mostly fed on whales and any other large animal foolish enough to go swimming in their neighborhood!
Unfortunately for them, their prey needed large, warm, shallow oceans to thrive. And as the climate changed over the past few million years, those places became harder to find. As a result, their prey either died off or adapted to deep water existence. And when a critter’s food source goes extinct, that critter’s end isn’t far behind. As a result, the last of the megalodons died about two and a half million years ago.
But we are still finding megalodon fossils in places like Florida, Spain, and Morocco. And we’re finding all sorts of other fossils, too! If you’d like to find some of your own, why not join PaleoQuest or your local mineralogical society?