Megalodon Sightings: Is the Megalodon Shark Still Alive?
The Megalodon Shark
Alleged megalodon shark sightings over the years have led to the legend of a massive, prehistoric shark that still patrols the oceans of our world. Carcharocles megalodon was once a real shark — the most formidable predator the world has ever seen — but modern science claims it went extinct long ago. The idea that it might still be alive today is both terrifying and fascinating.
Even though most marine biologists and shark researchers tell us it's impossible, it's nevertheless interesting to wonder if and how a huge predatory shark could still exist somewhere in the vastness of the sea.
At a maximum length of up to 60 feet, megalodon was the largest shark that ever lived, a wrecking machine of teeth and muscle that preyed on adult whales. It's hard to imagine there could still be a viable population of such creatures out there somewhere, living undetected.
Still, there are occasional reports of massive sharks thirty feet long or more from around the world. Are these real-life accounts of modern megalodon sightings? If not, what are these witnesses seeing? Is it possible mainstream science has it wrong and is it still out there?
In this article, we'll take a look at some compelling evidence and stories that suggest megalodon is still with us. Some say it could still exist in deep and largely unexplored areas of the ocean such as the Mariana Trench. In the end, it's up to you to decide: Is there enough proof to support the idea that the megalodon shark is still alive?
Was Megalodon a Real Shark?
Yes! Megalodon really did exist. One reason we know this is because of an abundant supply of fossil teeth it left behind. These teeth are much larger than those of any living shark, including the great white, and from them researchers have been able to determine the size, weight and even some of the habits of the real Megalodon shark.
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the megalodon shark in recent years. This has, in turn, led to a great deal of confusion about megalodon encounters in modern times, as well as the real creature that swam in our oceans for millions of years. Unfortunately, some people have interpreted this misinformation to mean megalodon is entirely made up. That is far from the case.
So, when we talk about megalodon we are looking at it from two different points of view: Paleontology and Cryptozoology. I think it is important to distinguish the difference.
- The shark of paleontology can be studied by looking at the fossil record and living sharks in order to puzzle out what the real megalodon may have been like. From a paleontology perspective, this shark is officially extinct, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting.
- The idea of a living megalodon is a stance taken by cryptozoologists, and it is not supported by mainstream science. Why would anybody think this is possible? That is the question examined in this article, and later we will get into how and why people think meg could still be around.
I encourage readers to consider megalodon from both points of view. But let's get down to the real point of this article. Could this prehistoric predator still be out there even today?
The Lazarus Taxon and the Megalodon Shark
We know of the real megalodon shark only from fossil records and preserved teeth. Because shark skeletons consist mostly of cartilage, these are the only parts that fossilize. No living or dead specimen has ever been recovered in modern times. Also, there are no "official" sightings on record.
So what makes us think it could still be around? More importantly, has anything like this ever happened before?
In fact, there is precedence for bizarre marine creatures turning up when the odds are stacked against them. Some of them, like the megalodon shark, were once thought extinct or believed to only be myths.
- Megamouth Shark: The incredible megamouth shark is another sea creature that can grow to enormous size, but it was not discovered until 1976. This beast eluded researchers for so long because it lives in deep water, and comes closer to the surface only at night. This, some researchers speculate, could be the same behavior that makes Megalodon so tough to spot.
- Coelacanth: The coelacanth is an even stranger case. This bizarre fish was thought to have gone extinct 65 million years ago, until they were discovered in 1938, live and well, off the coast of South Africa. The Coelacanth is a prehistoric fish, referred to as the Living Fossil. While they're not giants like Megalodon, the Megamouth, or the Giant Squid, they do still reach over six feet in length.
- Giant Squid: The giant squid is a huge creature, reaching up to 30 feet in length, dwelling in the deepest parts of the ocean. Though science eventually knew of its existence from bodies washed ashore and scars left on the bodies of whales, no live adult specimen was ever caught on film until 2004. Now we know much more about these creatures, and that there is an even larger monster squid out there.
- Colossal Squid: The Colossal Squid is an enormous real-life sea monster, with the largest specimens weighing over half a ton. Even though it was discovered in 1925, we still know very little about this beast. Colossal and Giant squid sightings by ancient sailors are probably what led to legends of the Kraken sea monster.
A Lazarus Taxon is a species that appears to have gone extinct, but then is found alive again.
Usually, as is the case with the Coelacanth, there is a small remnant population somewhere that had gone unnoticed, at least by modern science. Often, locals know about the animals, but because a biologist hasn't confirmed it the species remains officially extinct.
If such an ancient and strange species like the Coelacanth could endure without detection for so long, why can't the Megalodon be alive out there somewhere after all these years?
Historic Megalodon Sightings and Evidence
There are a handful of well-documented pieces of evidence and testimony that suggest megalodon is still alive. Here are a few of the more well-known stories:
- Huge Teeth Found by HMS Challenger: In 1875, two megalodon teeth were dredged up during a deep-sea expedition by the HMS Challenger, dated only 10,000 - 15,000 years old. If the methods used were accurate, this would mean it went extinct much more recently than previously believed, and make it a contemporary of modern humans. Ten thousand years is only a blink of an eye in the world of paleontology. It does not take a great imagination to think the megalodon shark may have survived the past 10,000 years undetected in the depths of the oceans.
- Fishermen Terrified by Giant Shark: In 1918 an Australian naturalist named David Stead recorded events when local fishermen refused to go back out to sea after an unbelievably massive shark had demolished their gear and taken their catch. These were experienced men of the sea, familiar with whales and large sharks, but whatever they had seen had frightened them so much that they refused to work. According to Stead, they described it as between 35 and 90 meters long and pure white in color. These proportions seem unbelievable. Could a shark really grow to that size? Were these men exaggerating? Or, were they just confused?
- Massive Shark Threatens 55-Foot Fishing Boat: In the 1960s, the captain of a 55-foot fishing ship reported that a white shark at least as long as the boat passed by while they sat at anchor. The crew refused to officially discuss the sighting, but the Captain gave his account. An experienced sailor, the Captain would have been able to recognize a whale if that is what it had been, but he claimed it was indeed a giant shark. Are stories such as this one based on real encounters, or are they just products of the imaginations of sailors who have been at sea too long?
The Most Terrifying Ocean Predator of All Time
Recent Megalodon Sightings
Unfortunately, when it comes to more recent sightings, the casual researcher has to weed through a whole bunch of nonsense to get to any stories with credibility. YouTube is awash with clips of supposed megalodon encounters — all fake, of course.
Megalodon has firmly planted itself in the realm of cryptozoology, and few marine biologists and shark researchers take the creature seriously in the modern-day. Occasionally a stray report will wash up of a larger-than-normal shark spotted somewhere. But, given that great whites can theoretically grow in excess of 20 feet, it’s certainly possible that these are misidentified animals. Most marine biologists would be thrilled enough to discover a 20-foot great white!
But there are at least a few interesting tidbits for consideration:
- Megalodon Monsterquest Episode: Back in 2009, the History Channel show Monsterquest visited the Sea of Cortez where massive sharks have been reported for years. These beasts are allegedly three times larger than the biggest great white sharks in the area, and known for decimating the local marine mammal populations. The Monsterquest team failed to find megalodon, but many still believe that if this giant shark is still around, this would be a prime location for finding it.
- The Monster of Bird Island: In 2012, on an episode of the show Shark Wranglers called Monster of Bird Island, shark researchers interviewed a group of South African fisherman who claimed there was a huge shark in the area as big as their boat. The boat appeared to be thirty or forty feet long. Was this a megalodon shark these fishermen had witnessed? Later in the episode, one of the researchers told a tale of a 30-foot shark he had seen when he was younger.
The Discovery Channel and Megalodon Lives
This concept of a living megalodon has spawned some interesting movies and novels, not to mention caught the attention of shark enthusiasts, both amateur and professional. Even the Discovery Channel featured a special on the megalodon for Shark Week 2012, complete with a massive recreation of the monster.
The next year they went on to offer an even more artificial rendition of the creature, leading to the Shark Week 2013 fiasco. The docudrama called Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives ignited a world-wide interest, largely because so many people believed the footage and actors in the film were real.
For Shark Week 2014, the Discovery Channel tried again with a rehashed version of Megalodon Lives. However, the public had caught on by this point, and the same people who were blown away a year earlier were now bent on finding facts.
That's good. This is a creature worth exploring, and whether or not it still survives today it is one of the most fascinating real-world monsters that ever lived.
What Was Megalodon Really Like?
Though we think of the megalodon as a giant great white shark, many researchers believe it may not have resembled one at all. Indeed, some say they were not even closely related.
Did it act as a great white? Most researchers say it was probably similar, but of course there is no way to be sure. So when someone spots a giant great white shark, what are the odds it could really be a relic megalodon?
From this perspective, there could be countless undocumented sightings throughout history.
So what was Megalodon shark really like? Could the dramatization in the video below be accurate?
Giant Teeth and Massive Jaws
Like the great white, megalodon had serrated teeth. While we think of modern sharks as formidable predators we surely wouldn't want to cross paths with, the megalodon would have been in a whole new class of terror. Even after countless centuries, some fossilized megalodon teeth are still sharp to the touch. We can only imagine what they were capable doing to a large prey item like a whale, let alone a human.
The largest teeth can be seven inches long — the size of a grown-man's hand. It was the largest and most highly evolved in a lineage of megatoothed sharks.
Though they look like larger versions of great white shark teeth, paleontologists point to slight differences in the megalodon teeth and its ancestors as proof that the megalodon shark is not closely related to the great white. This would put it in the genus Carcharocles rather than the great white's Carcharodon. Still, other researchers place megalodon in the genus Otodus. This is a matter still up for debate.
A Powerful Bite Force
Regardless of its heritage, this shark had a set of chompers never seen in the animal kingdom before or since. Researchers have calculated that this massive shark may have had a bite force of 18 tons! A Tyrannosaurus Rex had a bite force of only one-third that. The strongest biter in our world today is the saltwater crocodile, and they only come in around 3700 pounds.
It's clear that the teeth and jaws were made for destruction. Interestingly, some researchers say it may have bitten off the fins of its prey before finishing it off. That makes the megalodon tooth arsenal not only powerful but capable of a certain amount of precision as well.
Megalodon Behavior and Hunting Technique
Much like the modern great white, megalodon was probably an ambush predator that took its prey by surprise, either from below or by approaching at great speeds. This would have meant it was a very active shark, not some lumbering giant like the whale shark. It was a coastal shark, hunting offshore. Again, like our modern great white.
Megalodon would have been found in just about every ocean of the world, preying on whales, dolphins and other marine mammals, and even giant sea turtles. In short, it would have eaten just about anything it wanted. If it were really around, it would not be hard to spot.
If still alive today, it’s easy to see that all of the above can no longer be true. A massive, 60-foot shark hunting whales close to shore would surely be well-known, not to mention widely feared. So if meg is still around, it must have changed its behaviors drastically.
Scientists think that the megalodon young lived in shark nurseries like great whites do. These are areas, usually close to shore, where young sharks can grow and feed in relative safety. Megalodon young may have started out eating fish or other small prey items, and then moved on to larger prey as they got bigger.
So where are the baby sharks? They may be living at great depths like their parents, or it could be possible that they are so rare and so similar to the great white that when they are spotted they are simply assumed to be adult great white sharks.
The Livyatan Whale: A Formidable Rival?
It's pretty clear that the megalodon shark was the most powerful beast in the ancient Miocene ocean, but could there have been another creature just as fearsome that gave Meg a run for its money?
The recently discovered Livyatan whale was as big as the megalodon, with teeth over a foot long. It competed with megalodon for food, but what happened when these two prehistoric heavyweights met face to face?
Like modern whales, Livyatan was likely highly intelligent, and may have even hunted in pods. On the other hand, megalodon never needed to come up for air, and had the element of surprise on its side. Meg also preyed on whales for food, and we can imagine it took down at least juvenile Livyatans.
How Did Megalodon Go Extinct?
As the environment entered a cooling period, sea levels began to fall and currents shifted, causing not only a cooling of the ocean itself, but also a shift in the food supply. Theoretically, the megalodon shark either couldn’t adapt to the colder climate, the food issues, or both. There is also evidence that the situation may have been complicated by the evolution of other large, predatory marine creatures which may have infringed on Megalodon’s niche. The rise of species such as Orca (the killer whale) may have speeded Meg's extinction.
Unfortunately, even the strongest creatures are no match for Mother Nature. While Meg inhabited every ocean of the world, the planet was a much warmer place back then.
Why Megalodon Went Extinct
Does Megalodon Live in the Mariana Trench?
For meg to still be still alive, it would have had to adapt to colder temperatures, a different breeding pattern, and greatly different food sources. Some speculate that megalodon populations may have survived in the Mariana Trench and other deep parts of the ocean.
Certainly we know that whales and giant squids venture very deep, so it is conceivable that megalodon would have the food it requires. In fact, recent research on great white sharks shows they may dive fairly deep in search of food. If meg followed similar habits, perhaps it could have made the adaptations to deep-ocean life much easier than some experts suggest.
Unfortunately, the larger an animal is, and the more specific its niche in the environment, the harder a time it has in adapting to environmental changes. It's unlikely that the vast majority of these sharks would have been able to adapt to a major shortage in their food supply. An animal that evolved to feed on large marine mammals would have a tough time switching to oceanic fish, for example.
Is it conceivable is that a small population which had already made some adaptations to a different food sources and lifestyle (such as diving to great depths and feeding on squid) could have survived the die-off and maintained a small, remnant population over the centuries?
Megalodon Sightings in 2020
Will the megalodon shark be rediscovered in the year 2020? All of these sightings and stories are compelling, but are they really enough to suggest that this massive shark is still alive? Is it still out there somewhere, stalking the oceans of the world? Is there any reason to worry about going into the water at the beach?
If it makes you feel any better, it seems unlikely. Mainstream science is unmoved by the evidence supporting the possibility of megalodon’s existence today. Still, the idea of this monster shark out there patrolling the ocean deep is fascinating to imagine. There is still so much of the ocean left unexplored, the possibilities are almost endless.
The Megalodon Poll
Do you believe it's possible that the Megalodon shark could still exist?
- 55% Yes. The idea is scientifically plausible.
- 35% Anything is possible, but it seems unlikely.
- 4% Probably not, but I'm suddenly less excited about my trip to the beach this summer.
- 7% No way! The Megalodon is as dead as disco!
Questions & Answers
- Helpful 54
Did the megalodon shark have any predators or enemies?
The megalodon shark was an apex predator, meaning it was at the top of the food chain. Apex predators have no natural predators of their own, so a fully grown megalodon had little to fear in the prehistoric oceans. It was the big boss of the ancient seas, and it hunted a wide array of prey items.
However, even apex predators end up on the wrong end of the lunch menu now and then. Modern great white sharks are apex predators, but they are sometimes hunted and killed by orcas, another apex predator. So, it isn’t unreasonable to think this could have happened to megalodon.
But orcas are larger than great white sharks, and they hunt in packs. What kind of animal could have taken on the massive, 60-foot megalodon shark?
Livyatan melvillei was one contender. It was a whale as big as an adult megalodon shark, with foot-long teeth. It, too, was an apex predator, but would it have taken on meg in the right situation?
It’s impossible to know for sure, and because shark skeletons are made of cartilage, not bone, we have no megalodon bones to reference for bite marks. Nevertheless, it is intriguing to imagine these two prehistoric hunters squaring off in the ancient ocean.Helpful 37
How big is a megalodon shark?
The megalodon shark could reach a length of up to 60 feet, according to current estimates. This is much shorter that earlier estimates, where some researchers speculated megalodon might have been 100 feet long. That’s as long as a blue whale!
Still, a sixty-foot shark is a really big fish. To put this in perspective, a very large great white shark may reach an adult length of 20 feet. Megalodon was three times as big!
Megalodon may have weighed 50 tons, with some estimates putting them even heavier. Again for perspective, realize that the largest great whites are around 5,000 pounds, or about 2.5 tons. Any way you look at it, Megalodon was a really huge shark.
It’s important to realize that researchers can only estimate these numbers, as no living megalodon or carcass has ever been found. Sharks skeletons consist mostly of cartilage, so megalodon doesn’t leave much behind.
However, there is an abundance of fossilized teeth, and a few fossilized vertebrae. The largest megalodon teeth are over seven inches long, where a great white tooth is between two and three inches long.
Comparisons with the great white give researchers a rough estimate of the size of the megalodon shark. If more information becomes available, those estimates may change.Helpful 32