Is Megalodon Alive? The answer is a resounding NO!
This article is intended to give you the real science behind the megalodons extinction, and why they are not alive today. First, let's look at the origins of why many people think megalodon is alive...
The Discovery Channel Fictional Documentary: "Megalodon - The Monster Shark Lives"
I've seen a surge in people looking for megalodon information. This website has a very nice Megalodon information page. It has everything you wanted to know about megalodons, and it's cited with actual scientific journal articles. Unfortunately people are not searching for megalodon facts, they are searching for "is megalodon alive," "whale bit by megalodon in hawaii," "megalodon attack boat," etc... They are looking for the evidence presented on the now popular discovery channel fake documentary about megalodons. What many unsuspecting people do not realize is the discovery channel megalodon show is completely fabricated. It was used to create a surge of ratings, which worked. A disclaimers that quickly flash during the show states:
"None of the institutions or agencies that appear in the film are affiliated with it in any way, nor have approved its contents. Though certain events and characters in this film have been dramatized, sightings of "Submarine" continue to this day. Megalodon was a real shark. Legends of giant sharks persist all over the world. There is still debate about what they might be."
The entire show is meant to be a work of fiction. However, since it's presented on a channel formerly known for science programming, many people think it is a real documentary with real evidence. Some of the fake evidence shown in the fictional show includes:
- The "marine biologists" that gave their "expert" opinions on the show do not exist. There is no Collin Drake or Madelyn Joubert. They are actors.
- The whale that had its tail bitten off, perhaps by a megalodon, in Hawaii in 2009. This "whale" is nothing more than CGI. The whale photo and video never existed.
- A "declassified" U-Boat image from 1942 showing a giant fin and tail in the background. This photo was created for the show. It is fake. It never existed. The fake scientist says the shark may have been up to 100 feet long, which is actually twice as long as the estimated maximum size for a megalodon! It must have been Godzillodon.
- The people fishing near cape town who's boat got bit by a megalodon and died never existed. It was never on the news, there was never a diving crew. This is a completely fabricated story complete with actors as the fishing crew and actors as the news castors.
It's been a while since this fictional documentary show first aired where science was removed and fiction was inserted, and unfortunately, many people now beleive the megalodon is still alive today. The answer to this question is a resounding NO. And here are the complete reasons why...
Other Evidence of Megalodons Existence
So, what's the real evidence that megalodon is still alive? There is none. I'm not being biased here. There is NO scientific evidence that supports the existence of a living megalodon. Let's look at the confused evidence used to support megalodon existence today:
Videos and pictures of giant dead sharks washing ashore, or seen swimming near a boats and/or people. These must be megalodons.
Yes, these videos and images do exist. Most of them appear real. The reason why is because there are large sharks, similar in size to what megalodon was, that exist today. 60 feet is stretching it for a maximum size of a megalodon. They were probably closer to the 50 foot mark (see the Megalodon Page for cited size information). Other large sharks that reach simlar sizes exist today. Two of these sharks are the Whale shark and the Basking Shark.
Whale sharks have a distinctive appearance. They have a wide and flat appearance. They are black with white spots on them. They look very distinctive, and are usually not confused with a "living" megalodon roaming the seas.
However, the other large shark, the basking shark, can and has been mistaken for giant prehistoric beasts. A notable example is seen in the October 24, 1868 Harper's Weekly Newspaper, which shows a basking shark with an artistic marlin sail and legs!.
This engraved image from the October 24th, 1896 edition of Harpery Weekly shows a creature washed ashore. It is most likely a basking shark with artistic touches (nice legs!).
This work is in the public domain (PD-1923) in the United States.
Basking sharks are endangered sharks that inhabit coastal waters and feed on plankton. These docile sharks are GIANT. They can grow up to 40 feet, which is similar in size to an adult megalodon. On the rare occasion when these beautiful creatures are spotted by beachgoers, they can easily be confused with a megalodon by someone with an overactive imagination. Just because a GIANT shark is sighted, it doesn't mean it's a prehistoric megalodon, it could very well be one of these amazing basking sharks.
If a megalodon body did wash ashore, or one was videotaped or photographed swimming around, it would make instant global news and not just news in the dark and deep conspiracy annals of youtube.
Image courtesy of candiche.
This amazing photo is of a Basking shark swimming near a beachgoer. These GIANT, yet harmless, creatures can grow to almost the same size a megalodon. Basking sharks can easily be misidentified as a megalodon by people with overactive imaginations.
This is a photo of a Whale Shak from my Galapagos Dive Trip, where I dove with schools of hammerhead sharks.
Whale sharks are Huge creatures, approaching 40 feet. Whale Sharks are another example of an shark approaching a similar size to the megalodon.
Recent megalodon teeth being found - aka New Caledonia teeth
This is a popular piece of evidence used. However, there have NEVER been any recent megalodon teeth found. The most recent ones are still over 1 million years old. The evidence of recent megalodon teeth being found started in the 1950's. Megalodon teeth were found in the south pacific from dredging along deep slopes of a fringing reef around New Caledonia.
They were discovered in the late 50's by locals dredging the seafloor 1000 feet below. The enamel on many of these teeth are leeched such that a white color is left, making them slightly resemble a recent tooth. During the 1950's age dating was not as accurate as today. The type of age dating done was Manganese dioxide dating. The Manganese dioxide dating gave an age range of the sampled teeth to be between 11,000 and 24,000 years old. This means megalodon must have survived extinction.
This type of manganese dioxide dating is now considered invalid, due to the teeth being eroded out of their original formation and re-deposited. Today, modern dating methods indicate the teeth are eroded from a Miocene formation, which is between 23 and 5 million years old. Any source that uses the "evidence" that teeth pulled from the south pacific are 11,000 to 24,000 years old are purposely misleading the reader by using invalid and outdated evidence.
On a side note, these beautiful whitish fossil megalodon teeth use to be dredged from this area by the boatload. In 2003 the French pulled the permit for dredging in this area. Today these beautiful New Caledonian fossil megalodon teeth cannot be collected.
If a recent megalodon tooth was ever found, Paleontologists and marine Biologists would have a field day publishing new journal articles. These scientific and peer reviewed articles do not exist.
This is a New Caledonian Megalodon tooth. By valid dating methods, it is firmly dated to be Miocene in age.
Megalodon evolved into a deep sea predator and is still roaming the deep seas.
There is no scientific evidence of megalodon evolving into anything else. The evidence suggests it went extinct approximately 1.6 million years ago with many of the whales during the end Pliocene extinction.
Let's start this one by looking at megalodon origins. Although the fossil record can be spotty and there are gaps, the fossil record for shark teeth in tertiary deposits is actually very plentiful, and nearly complete.
Scientists have a very nice evolutionary history of the megatooth sharks starting way back in the cretaceous with the shark Cretolamna appenticulata. As time goes on, there is a clear fossil record of slight changes in the shark teeth. The cusps gradually become smaller, and eventually disappear. The cutting edges become serrated, the crown gets broader, and the overall size of the teeth increases over time. Paleontologists assign each change of the megatooth shark into new species, and even genera, until the high mark is reached, the Carcharocles megalodon.
Yes, there is debate over exact species names, genera names, and when one morphological form is pronounced enough to be considered a new species. But everyone does agree, there is a nice evolutionary history of megalodon preserved in the fossil record. A general chronology of megatooth shark species, leading to megalodon is shown in the image below:
This is a VERY general evolution pattern of the megatooth shark lineage, ending with the apex predator Carcharocles Megalodon.
For a more indepth explination, go to either the Megalodon Facts Page, or the Megalodon Evolution Article.
The evolution of the megatooth shark into megalodon is clear. The extinction of megalodon also is clear in the fossil record. Fossils of megalodon are plentiful, but at the Pliocene/Pleistocene contact, fossils of megalodon vanish. The fossil record on megalodon cease. This doesn't mean there are not marine Pleistocene formations. There are, and they are plentiful. They contain an array of marine fauna, including many surviving sharks and the surviving whales (modern whales). They just don't contain megalodon fossils anymore. There are no transitional fossils showing a gradual change of megalodon into something else, there simply are no fossils of megalodon or similar creatures. If megalodon changed into something else, there would be a clear record in these Pleistocene formations. There is no record, they simply vanish. The only valid conclusion is megalodon became extinct.
The Oceans are so vast and mostly unexplored; a large predator can easily evade detection, so megalodon can exist.
This is probably the most commonly used argument. That's because the statement is partially true. The oceans are vast, a large predator can evade detection. Unfortunately, the statement contains a common logical fallacy: Argument from Ignorance. This common logical fallacy states since we don't know or can never prove whether a claim is true or false, it must be false or it must be true (depending on how you are arguing).
Scientists are always finding new deep sea animals. However, the evidence for megalodon is just not there. There could be space aliens under the sea, there could be unicorns, dragons, Elvis, Jimmy Hoffa all living in some underwater castle yet to be discovered. However, the evidence for these are also just not there.
If we cannot 100% prove or disprove a statement, we need to weigh the scientific evidence. Megalodon is just not any oceanic creature. It was THE top apex predator of the oceans. The evidence is just not there for a large undetected apex predator ruling the oceans. I'm sure there are plenty of other undetected animals, including new species of sharks roaming the oceans, but none of them are going to be a top apex predator, like the megalodon.
Let's look at some of the reasons why:
- If megalodons were alive today, we would be seeing them, ALL THE TIME.
Although unusual, it was a warm water animal. Fossils are only found in ancient warm water oceans and seas, not near the poles. They used nursing grounds that were near shore, the East Atlantic Coastal Plain and Florida were two such nursing grounds. Juveniles would live and grow there.
They ate cetacea (whales), and lots of them.
They were common. Megalodon fossils are found nearly globally in all warm and temperate waters of the Miocene and Paleocene. These were not rare animals, their fossils become relatively abundant during the Miocene and Pliocene, more so than the Great White sharks.
If megalodons still exist in their forms today, we would be seeing them ALL THE TIME. These top apex predators would be spotted eating whales on whale watching tours, greenpeace would see them, they would be spotted nearshore along warm coastlines. Carcasses would be washing ashore from time to time (like the basking sharks). They would not be hiding in the deep, cold, dark depths of the sea. These animals were in no way designed for that.
- Megalodon was THE top apex predator of the oceans. The modern ecology of the oceans cannot support such an apex predator today.
A major event occurred toward the end of the Paleocene, the Isthmus of Panama rose, creating a land bridge between North and South America. This completely shut down the tropical currents connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Remember, megalodon fossils are only found from warm waters. This basically stopped the radiation of megalodon. It could no longer swim from ocean to ocean. Megalodon populations became isolated in "islands of warm water".
The Paleocene showed other dramatic changes. Global temperatures cooled, Ice Age cycles were triggered. Water was locked up in the poles, causing a dramatic drop in global sea levels. Megalodons nursing areas were now above sea level.
All of these events caused a major disruption in marine fauna, especially megafauna, like whales and sharks. Whale diversity (megalodons main food source) shrank. Many whale genera became extinct, including the cetotherids that were a main food source. Many of the whales that survived adapted and started migrating into cooler, more nutrient rich waters where megalodon could not go. Megalodon, being a warm water animal, and could not follow these whales. Other whales adapted into large killing apex predators that hunted in pods, such as the Orcas. Juvenile megalodons would have made for tasty Orca snacks.
Just by looking at the ecological changes above spells disaster for a top apex predator. When an ecosystem collapses, the first animals to go are the ones on the top of the food chain. Today, the limited warm ocean waters are not nutrient rich enough to support a large apex predator. There simply are not enough cetacea to support a large apex predator. There are no more nursing grounds left for this top apex predator.
Summing this all up, it's habitat is gone, it's food source is extinct, and there are now other apex predators in the oceans. There is simply no room, ecologically speaking, for a megalodon to exist.
So, to sum everything up... Megalodon is NOT alive today, it went extinct millions of years ago.
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