Megalodon, Terror of the Deep

24 Aug

Megalodon, an extinct species of shark that lived approximately 1.5 million years ago, is regarded as one of the largest and most powerful predators in history. If you have a thing about sharks, then I’d suggest that you don’t read any further – Megalodon really is the stuff of nightmares. This prehistoric marine predator may have grown to a length of up to 100 feet and, with teeth the size of Olympic javelins, it possessed by far the most powerful bite of any creature that ever lived. Today, it is generally accepted that Megalodon’s descendant, the Great White Shark, is nature’s ultimate hunter. To put things into perspective, then, imagine a creature capable of swallowing a Great White whole in a single bite! With such fearsome natural weaponry at its disposal, it is hardly surprising to hear that, back in the Cenozoic Era Megalodon wasn’t too picky about its diet and in fact ate pretty much whatever it wanted. If imagining a shark the size of a battleship makes you shudder, then you might find the thought that Megalodon is now extinct fairly reassuring. Until, that is, you hear about the persistent, bloodcurdling reports that this super-shark still exists and continues to hunt at the depths of the oceans of the 21st century. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…

Unlike some marine predators of prehistoric times – which were restricted to the coastlines or inland rivers and lakes of certain continents – Megalodon had a truly global distribution, terrorizing whales in warm-water oceans all over the world. Apparently, the only thing keeping adult Megalodons from venturing too far toward solid land was their enormous size, which would have beached them as helplessly as 16th-century Spanish galleons. Megalodon hunted and attacked its prey in much the same way as its smaller modern-day cousin the Great White Shark, racing up from below, swimming at unbelievable speed, and disabling its prey on the first pass with a bite to the flippers, legs, or propulsion systems. Just to make you shudder again, once its target was disabled, Megalodon then took its time devouring the unfortunate prey. Not for no reason was Richard Ellis, the author of Monsters of the Sea, once moved to quote: “More than Leviathan, more than the sea serpent, more than the Kraken, Megalodon may be the ultimate monster”.

So Megalodon was huge, relentless, and the apex predator of the Pliocene and Miocene epochs. What went wrong? Well, there’s no lack of theories: Megalodon may have been doomed by global cooling (which culminated in the last Ice Age), or by the gradual disappearance of the giant whales that constituted the bulk of its diet. Or was it? Even though the evidence is scanty, to say the least, some people insist that Megalodon still lurks in the ocean’s depths. For instance, in 1918 some New Zealand lobstermen claimed they saw a 100-foot Great White Shark on the high seas (although, conveniently, there is no photographic evidence to support this, or any of the other rumoured ‘sightings’). More intriguing was the discovery of a Megalodon tooth by members of HMS Challenger in 1872, which some believed to be only 10,000 years old (the predator was supposed to have died out millions of years earlier). It is perhaps this find which has inspired the portrayal of Megalodon in several works of fiction, including films and novels, and the super-shark continues to hold its place among the most popular subjects for fiction involving sea monsters. Its existence in books and films is, however, the only definitive sense in which Megalodon is still around today – and for that we should perhaps all be thankful.


5 Responses to “Megalodon, Terror of the Deep”

  1. linktay August 24, 2013 at 2:02 am #

    Very interesting post, thank you for sharing!!

  2. Admin August 24, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    Reblogged this on steve emmett and commented:
    Sharks are my big fear – ever since I nearly lost a foot to a Tiger in Florida. This will make you shudder.

    • Hugh August 26, 2013 at 4:09 am #

      Anilbalan, further to your post, I’ve just posted this on my blog. Hope you find it as intriguing as I do!


      Hugh Paxton’s blog loves a good shark story and here’s a great one:

      “Richard Ellis, co-author with John McCosker, of the definitive book ‘Great White Shark’ (published by Harper Collins in 1991) speculates that there may be – just may be the tantalising possibility that some specimens of Megaladon survived long past their apparent terminal date.”
      Hugh Edwards,Australian author of Shark the shadow below (also published published by HarperCollins, 1997).

      Ellis quotes a report by another Australian, David Stead, a scientist and naturalist, and in 1938, president of the New South Wales Naturalist’s Society.

      Here is the report:

      “In the year 1918 I recorded the sensation that had been caused among the ‘outside’ (ie deep water) cray fishermen at Port Stephens, when for several days they refused to go to sea to their regular fishing grounds in the vicinity of Broughton Island.

      The men had been at work on the fishing grounds, which lie in deep water, when an immense shark of almost unbelievable proportions put in an appearance, lifting pot after pot containing many crayfish, and taking as the men said ‘pot, lines and all!’

      These pots, it should be mentioned, were some 3 foot 6 inches (1 meter) in diameter and frequently contained from two three dozen crayfish, each weighing several pounds. The men were unanimous that this shark was something the like of which they had never dreamed of.

      In company with the loca Fisheries Inspector I questioned many of the men very closely and they all agreed as to the gigantic stature of the beast. But the lengths they gave were, on the whole, absurd. I mention them, however as an indication of the state of mind which this unusual giant had thrown them into. And bear in mind that these were men who were used to the sea and all sorts of weather, and all sorts of sharks as well.

      One of the crew said the shark was 300 feet (90 meters) long at least. Others said it was as long as the wharf on which we stood – about 115 (35 meters). They affirmed that the water ‘boiled’ over a large space when the fish swam past. They were all familiar with whales which they had often seen passing at sea, but this was a vast shark. They had seen its terrible head which was ‘at least as long as the roof of the wharf shed at Nelson’s Bay.’

      Impossible of course! But these were prosaic and rather stolid men not given to ‘fish stories’nor even to talking about their catches. Furthermore they that the person they were talking to (myself) had heard all the fish stories years before! The thing that impressed me was that they all agreed as to the ghostly whitish colour of the vast fish.”


      What did the men see. Not a whale shark – they eat plankton and copepods. Certainly not a whale. A living megaladon, a giant prehistoric survivor (with a taste for crayfish)?

      Thought provoking.

  3. Hugh August 24, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

    An excellent post. As usual! In the Hugh Edwards book, Shark The Shadow Below, Edwards describes an account of an extremely large shark, considerably longer than the fishing village pier. The thing that caught my interest was the unrealistic size of the shark, the fact that the witnesses were rather hard headed Australians, and not particularly imaginative. The shark was glowing. Might be disturbed plankton. I’ll dig out the story and pass it on.Best! Hugh! .



  1. New post from Anilbalan on hs Ghost Cities Blog: Megalodon, Terror of the Deep | Hugh Paxton's Blog - August 24, 2013

    […] Megalodon, Terror of the Deep […]

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