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by James "Zach" Zacharias, Senior Curator of Education and History
The August 10, 2018, release of the movie, “The Meg,” creates the perfect opportunity to learn the real truth about this extinct prehistoric monster fish. Megalodon carcharodon was the top predator that terrorized the oceans of the world from 20 million years ago to its disappearance from the fossil record 2 million years ago. Being one of the largest vertebrate carnivores that ever lived, its bite is estimated to be more powerful than Tyrannosaurus Rex. Huge triangular teeth have been discovered all over the world with sizes up to 7 inches. Paleontologists theorize that every inch of tooth equals 10 feet of shark length. That would be mean some Megalodons could reach lengths of 70 feet and no doubt would dominate its environment. It would weigh nearly 60 tons compared to the modern great white shark’s weight of 3.5 tons.
A Meg shark required a large food source because it was so large, and that supply came from whales. Many whale fossils show scarring on their vertebrae and ribs from the cut marks of these giant sharks. It is possible that the “Meg” would attack large whales by biting off their fins or coming up from underneath and smashing the underside of their body. This would crush ribs, destroy organs, and disable the whale from moving. Some paleontological excavations have shown Meg teeth next to chewed whalebones. Many of the teeth would break in half or fall out on impact with the whale’s bones. Luckily for the “Meg” it had a lifetime of unlimited teeth. They moved like a conveyer belt from the back of the shark’s mouth to the front. One shark could produce well over 10,000 teeth in its lifetime.
Most people do not realize that Meg teeth are common fossil finds in many parts of the world, including Florida and the Southeast United States. One common spot for shark teeth is the southwest coast of Florida. Large numbers of small Meg teeth may be found by amateur paleontologists right offshore. Some even wash up on the beaches like at Venice Beach. Scientists believe that Florida was a calving area for female Megalodons. It is shallow and warm and the food sources would have been suitable for the smaller sharks. For example, it is believed that the Florida dugong, an extinct relative of the Florida manatee, would have been available prey. This may be why so many juvenile teeth are found in that part of Florida.
Today, Hollywood likes to pretend that Megalodons still live in the deepest parts of oceans. Some people might accept this as fact, but this is not the case. Shark bodies are not designed to handle deep water pressure and there are no sufficient food sources to sustain such large animals. Also, it would require a population of a least 500 individuals to ensure genetic diversity and species survival. No Megalodons have ever washed up on beaches or been caught in fishing nets. No teeth have shown up that are not fossilized. Megalodons have had their time in the fossil record, but that time has come and gone, and they are now extinct.
One possible extinction theory suggests that Megalodons’ primary food source, the whales, moved into colder water during the beginning of the last ice age. Megs could not adapt and eventually ran out of food. The fossil record demonstrates that many animal species become extinct due to environmental changes, and the Meg is no exception. People like to romanticize the fact that the “Megs” might still be alive somewhere in the deep blue, but thankfully, this is not the case. Be glad this animal of terror is extinct. One can only imagine if they were still alive, how different our boating, swimming, and fishing habits would be today.