Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Megalodon

August 4th had arrived, and I was ready.  Snack food?  Check.  Phone on silent?  Check.  Garish neon shark t-shirt?  Check.  It was time for the greatest holiday of the year.  It was time for Shark Week.

Discovery's annual shark-fest is a highlight of my summer.  The slow-motion seal attacks... the overdramatic narration... I love it all.  Yes, the programming is always the same, but that doesn't bother me.  "Ten Deadliest Sharks" is an old friend -- and how could I get tired of "Air Jaws?"  Shark Week's uniformity makes it into a ritual; a familiar celebration of real-life monsters.  That's why I was surprised when I tuned in this year -- the first show was brand-new.  Its title?  "Megalodon:  the Monster Shark Lives."

Now, as a paleontology fan, I've long known of Megalodon.  This fifty-foot shark was a prehistoric leviathan -- it fed on whales, and made the great white look like a minnow.  Megalodon was at the top of the food chain.  Its hand-sized teeth could dismember any prey, and pretty much nothing could take it down.  So why did it go extinct?  The answer seems to be climate change.  Just over a million years ago, waters around the globe cooled substantially.  This was caused by the Isthmus of Panama, which changed the ocean's currents when it formed.  Megalodon was used to warmer seas -- without them, it could not survive.

But here was a Discovery Channel special saying otherwise.  As a cryptid fan, this was tremendously exciting.  The continued existence of a prehistoric shark?  Being suggested by a network like Discovery?  I was ecstatic... at least, until I started watching.  Right from the start, something just seemed off.  "Megalodon" kept showing photos and videos of modern-day Megalodons.  But if such good evidence existed, why hadn't I seen it before?  I keep very up-to-date on my cryptozoology -- believe me, if there were reputable Megalodon sightings, I'd have heard of them.

It became apparent, very quickly, that the "documentary" and all of its evidence were fake.  In a ploy to boost ratings, Discovery Channel had completely fabricated the program.  Worse yet, they had included only the feeblest of disclaimers -- saying the film's events were "dramatized" despite their complete forgery.  The public was outraged, and Discovery faced immediate backlash for the special.  Personally, I hadn't been fooled, but that's because I follow cryptozoology.  A lot of people were confused by "Megalodon," and many believed it until informed of the hoax.

So let me just make this clear:  yes, Megalodon is a cryptid.  But that Discovery Channel faux-umentary is not evidence for it.  What's more, the evidence that does exist is not good.  People suggest that a giant shark could survive in the deep waters of the Mariana trench.  But ocean trenches are freezing -- and since cold water drove Megalodon to extinction, it could never survive there.  Furthermore, this was a shallow-water predator -- if it still survived, it would be frequently seen.  The moral of this story, folks, is this -- don't trust everything you see on TV.  Shows like "Megalodon" only undermine cryptozoology, making our field look like shallow forgery.

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