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Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives


Claim:   A megalodon capsized a South African charter vessel in April 2013.

FALSE

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, August 2013]

Just watched Shark Week "Megalodon" on Discovery Channel on August 4, 2013. There was, in the beginning of the program, a "discovered" video (a la Blair Witch) of a South African charter fishing vessel with 5-6 people aboard being capsized by some sort of sea animal. The video is purportedly real, and even includes news footage of South African authorities conducting a news conference re: the incident. The vessel was capsized on April 5, 2013 in Hout Bay South Africa and the people's bodies were never recovered. The television program goes on to speculate that a giant "Megalodon" shark (60-100 feet long and thought to be extinct for 2 million years) was responsible for the boat capsizing.
 

Origins:   In August 2013, Discovery Channel kicked off its popular annual "Shark Week" programming with an episode entitled Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives (and followed it up in August 2014 with Megalodon: The New Evidence). That installment featured the efforts of a group of "researchers" to document the possibility that the prehistoric megalodon species of shark (the largest predatory marine creature in Earth's history, measuring from about 46–59 ft. in length) has not been extinct for more than a million years, as current scientific belief holds:


The episode featured vivid segments such researchers recounting their attempts to tag a megalodon from a submerged shark cage, and supposed video footage of a South African charter vessel that capsized after something (presumably a shark of monstrous size) rammed and/or bit it.

Of course, the faux "researchers" in this episode ("marine biologist" Colin Drake isn't a real person but rather a fictional role played by actor Darron Meyer) never did find hard evidence of a living megalodon; they merely claimed to have tagged something that escaped by supposedly diving deeper than any known shark, but they didn't get a good look at it. And if something chomped and capsized a
vessel off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, on 5 April 2013, killing several people, the South African press apparently didn't find that event noteworthy enough to report on at all.

The megalodon species of shark did exist, and it's not absolutely impossible that an undocumented species of huge shark lives in the oceans' depths (after all, it was only fairly recently that scientists documented the existence of the giant squid). But no such discovery or substantive evidence about living megalodons was at hand in the 2013 "Shark Week" premiere, and as Christie Wilcox wrote in a Discover blog entry, the possibility that some megalodons might still be around isn't even a subject of genuine inquiry or controversy among legitimate scientists:
"This documentary was the first time I’ve ever even heard it suggested that Megalodon may still exist," said Daniel Holstein, a post doc with the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. "There's about as much scientific controversy about the possibility of Megalodons lurking in today’s oceans as there is about mermaids. None.”

David Kerstetter, an assistant professor at the Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center in Dania Beach, Florida, whose current work includes reducing shark bycatch in fisheries, had a similar response. "There is no discussion among fisheries professionals whether Megalodon is extinct," he said. "If even one credible scientist had doubts about this, the Discovery Channel wouldn’t have had to use actors."

"As a researcher focused on mako sharks, I often discuss Megalodon with my colleagues," explained Dovi Kacev, a PhD candidate at San Diego State University studying the population genetics of shortfin mako and common thresher sharks. "We sometimes discuss what it would be like if Megalodon still existed — what it would prey upon, where it would live," he said. But as to its current existence? "Never do any of my colleagues or I ever plausibly argue that Megalodon is still extant."
Just as in the case of the faked Mermaids: The Body Found documentary (which aired on Animal Planet, part of the Discovery Channel family), Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives included a briefly-displayed disclaimer declaring the program's use of "dramatized" events and characters to make up for a lack of hard science and credible evidence:
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.
"Submarine," the legendary (but non-existent) 35-foot monster shark reappeared in the Discovery Channel's "Shark Week" feature Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine in 2014, with yet more claims of its deliberately attacking a ship off the coast of South Africa. That episode also featured a disclaimer noting that the "Submarine" material is largely fictionalized drama based on hearsay and rumor, and there's no actual physical evidence documenting that such a creature exists and has attacked ships:
Submarine is a legendary shark first sighted off the coast of South Africa in 1970.

Eyewitness accounts say it is over 35 feet long.

Its existence is highly controversial.

Events have been dramatized, but many believe Submarine exists to this day.
As Bob Strauss commented in his article "Megalodon — The Monster Shark Lives! (Not)":
What can you say about a TV documentary in which the suspiciously good-looking lead protagonist — "marine biologist" Collin Drake — comes up empty in a Google search? Or, for that matter, his equally attractive "marine biologist" pal Madelyn Joubert, who joins him halfway through the show, and whom a cursory web search easily demonstrates not to exist? And, not to belabor the point, a TV show that starts with suspiciously staged-looking video footage of a charter boat capsizing off the coast of South Africa, and no references can be found about this accident (in which three passengers were supposedly killed) from reliable online news sources? I don't know much about charter boats, but I do know that people whose ship is in the process of sinking do not take the trouble to center their subjects on frame.

I'm shocked that a major TV channel with a supposedly educational purview can get away with this drivel, in which "Collin Drake" (whoever he is in real life) pursues his theory that that charter boat was rammed by a living Megalodon. We're taken through various pieces of "evidence" — sonar sightings, Nazi-era photographs, whale carcasses washed up on the beach — but if Discovery is brazen enough to manufacture its "talking heads" out of whole cloth, what is the point of assessing the reliability of these details?
Or, as Christie Wilcox concluded:
No whale with a giant bite taken out of it has ever washed up here in Hawaii. No fishing vessel went mysteriously missing off of South Africa in April. No one has ever found unfossilized Megalodon teeth. Collin Drake? Doesn’t exist. The evidence was faked, the stories fabricated, and the scientists portrayed on it were actors. The idea that Megalodon could still be roaming the ocean is a complete and total myth.

Here’s what I don’t get, Discovery: Megalodons were real, incredible, fascinating sharks. There’s a ton of actual science about them that is well worth a two hour special. We’ve discovered their nursery grounds off the coast of Panama, for example. Their bite is thought to be the strongest of all time — strong enough to smash an automobile — beating out even the most monstrous dinosaurs. The real science of these animals should have been more than enough to inspire Discovery Channel viewers. But it’s as if you don’t care anymore about presenting the truth or reality. You chose, instead, to mislead your viewers with 120 minutes of bullshit. And the sad part is, you are so well trusted by your audience that you actually convinced them: according to your poll, upwards of 70% of your viewing public fell for the ruse and now believes that Megalodon isn’t extinct.
Last updated:   10 August 2014

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