Deep, deep within the recesses of our huge, highly evolved brains is a holdover from when we were a fish, a clump of rudimentary neurons that usually lay dormant. This fish brain isn’t used for recall or spacial calculation or interpreting sound or anything useful like that, it is there solely to make us fucking terrified of sharks. This fucker lights up like a Christmas tree on seeing even the silhouette of one of these pointy-tailed teeth-torpedoes. Thanks to some happy accident of brain wiring, we get an absurd thrill from firing up our hidden fish-brains. We love it. Even though we are fucking terrified of them, we love swimming with sharks and we love watching movies where they go around killing us.
I don’t claim to be an evolutionary biologist, a psychologist, or an evolutionary psychologist, but it stands to reason that the bigger the shark, the more our fish-brain would be titillated. This is my theory regarding the surprising success of The Meg. Anecdotally, I know if someone tells me there’s a movie with a very big shark in it, I will grab them by the collar and scream ‘WHY AREN’T WE WATCHING THIS RIGHT NOW?’, a habit which is universally despised by the people that know me.
But it’s not enough for me people to see an 80-foot shark in a movie, they want to believe there are 80-foot sharks in real life. It’s not enough that basking sharks measuring 40 feet in length have been caught, or that whale sharks estimated to be over 50 feet in length have been spotted more than once – the people want to know that prehistoric great whites the size of a semi-trailer are roaming the very beaches they swim at, for some perverse reason.
While the science is almost entirely settled that the megalodon died out over two million years ago, a lot of people on the internet are of the mind that these massive fish are still out there, conveniently posing for viral YouTube video thumbnails. This is in no small part thanks to the Discovery Channel, which, in 2013 and 2014 aired Shark Week mockumentaries purporting to show evidence of real, modern megalodons.
The shows both featured a brief disclaimer at the start about dramatisation of the facts (“None of the institutions or agencies that appear in the film are affiliated with it in any way, nor have approved its contents.“), but that disclaimer did not stick. What did stick was this ~highly convincing~ video of a supposed megalodon attack off South Africa:
And this old-timey lookin’ photo of a Nazi U-boat and a, frankly, improbably massive shark, also off the coast of South Africa:
Pictured: As the locals would say, a ‘shawk’. (Image: The Discovery Channel.)
The footage is obviously ridiculous and, as author George Monbiot pointed out, so is the picture, for a bunch of reasons ranging from the sepia-tone to the swastika watermark. Not ridiculous enough to stop people on the internet from believing it, though. People like YouTube commenter Abigail:
Yes yes whoo they are still alive now I prove to myself that MEGALODON SHARK STILL EXIST cause I’m researching if those sharks where still existing here in our world and this help me a lot tnx so much for this video and I love sharks that’s why I want that shark to live
Or YouTube commenter Johnny:
megalodon existi saw it from the very deep sea im not lying the megalodon is real
Or, hell, even YouTube commenter FusionSplicerGaming:
I’m not sure what to believe, but we humans haven’t explored the whole entire ocean so prehistoric animals such as the megalodon may be out there, and some people say that the water is to cold for them to live in but what a if the live deeper than mankind has explored because there can be underwater volcanoes down there that keep the water warm. P.S I don’t want to start a debate I’m just stating my opinion ☺
As FusionSplicerGaming alluded to, there are indeed prehistoric species that still exist. Coelacanths are a type of prehistoric fish that were believed to have died out around 66 million years ago until they were rediscovered (fittingly enough) off the coast of South Africa. It’s even rumoured that a community of coelacanths is currently living in Australia‘s own Brisbane River.
Not everyone’s belief comes from a pair of Discovery Channel mockumentaries, though. As The Portalist has documented, there have been a number of unconfirmed historical accounts of exceptionally large shark sightings. In the book Sharks and Rays of the Australian Seas, author David Stead said he spoke to several crayfish fishermen in 1981 who recounted seeing a roughly 115-foot-long shark near Broughton Island. Author BC Cartmell published a book in 1978 that included an account of speaking to sailors who claimed to have a seen a roughly 85-foot shark just off the Great Barrier Reef.
Stories like this have been enough to keep the cryptozoology community’s interest in big ol’ sharks well-fuelled. A very scientific poll conducted in the Unexplained Mysteries forums in 2005 by user Invisigoth found that 49.07% of respondents believed that megalodon is “still swimming the sea’s (sic)“. From my understanding of statistics, we can probably extrapolate this one poll of one forum to the entire population fo the planet.
British tabloid The Daily Star is a huge fan of claiming that megalodons might still exist, and early this year ran a story purporting to show video evidence that megalodons “could be more than just legends“, citing cryptozoologist Jonathan Downes, who described the shark shown in the video as a possible relative of the megalodon.
The people want their very, very big shark.