Carcharodon Megalodon’s mouth was lined with rows of sharp teeth the size of a human hand and big enough to swallow a compact car. The body was as long as a school bus and they roamed the world’s oceans eating whales and probably almost anything else. They were the largest and most dangerous shark in history and looked like today’s Great White Shark.
Once those monsters lurking in the deep spotted a whale, “it would use its powerful muscles to propel itself to the surface at high speed and slam into the whale from underneath,” according to a Prehistoric Wildlife report. “If the whale did not end up in the jaws of C. megalodon it would have very likely been stunned by the impact, allowing … time for a killing bite.”
The good news is they are extinct. But fiction writers make sure they are not forgotten with stories claiming Megalodons ate dinosaurs and are still lurking in the deepest parts of the ocean — making “Jaws” seem tame.
But scientists say those claims are not true. They couldn’t have eaten dinosaurs because Megalodons didn’t appear until the Late Oligocene to Early Pleistocene eras 23 to 2.6 million years ago, long after the dinosaurs were gone, according to evolutionary scientists.
Creationists believe differently, saying it happened within the last 6,000 to 40,000 years.
We know about Megalodon mostly by studying its teeth — found in all continents except Antarctica. In America, they are plentiful in the Carolinas, Florida, Texas, Oregon and elsewhere — and looking for them is a popular hobby.
Unlike other vertebrates in the sea, sharks don’t have bones and their skeletal structure is cartilage that doesn’t become fossilized, although they’ve found some fossilized vertebrae from Megalodons made of a harder cartilage.
Though the giant sharks are long gone, sharks have had an amazing ability to survive, and today there are more than 400 species worldwide.
About 10 are very deadly to humans, with the top three being the Great White, Tiger and Bull sharks.
Scientists disagree about Megalodon being the ancestor of today’s Great Whites that generally live in coastal temperate waters worldwide — but there are similarities, such as predatory habits, deduced from fossil evidence.
It is believed Megalodons ate mostly whales, while the Great White’s favorite cuisine includes fish, marine mammals — dolphins, seals, sea lions, porpoises, otters — as well as sea turtles and sea birds. They’re also known to swallow indigestible man-made debris.
And Great Whites are blamed for most of the fatal shark attacks on humans.
These frightening creatures have an amazingly sensitive detection system that can pick up the electromagnetic field emitted by the movement of living animals to within a billionth of a volt. They can even detect the heartbeat of marine animals that are not moving.
The Great White is smart, and can even kill the northern elephant seal that’s bigger than they are — weighing up to 4,400 pounds. With enormous crunching power of about 3,700 psi, the Great White bites on the seal’s hind quarters, immobilizing it and then waits until the animal bleeds to death.
They cleverly attack dolphins and porpoises by sneaking up behind them to avoid being detected by their echo location senses. And it is one of only a few sharks known to “spy-hop” — lifting its head above the sea surface to look for its prey.
Warm waters have other shark villains. The deadliest and most aggressive are the Tiger and Bull sharks. North America has both, though not usually along the Northwest Coast.
The Tiger and Bull may be even more dangerous than Great Whites and are about the same length, with the Tiger sometimes making terrifying headlines in Hawaii where there are about three or four shark attacks per year — the last fatal attack in 2004.
While Great Whites don’t always eat humans they attack and sometimes let go after the first bite when realizing that we’re not part of their usual diet — that’s not so with the Tiger Shark.
They’ll eat almost anything.
National Geographic says, “The stomach contents of captured tiger sharks have included stingrays, sea snakes, seals, birds, squids, and even license plates and old tires.”
Hawaii seems to have more than its share of dangerous sharks (not at Waikiki) — Tiger, Great White, Bull, Galapagos, Gray Reef, White Tipped Reef, Mako, Hammerhead and some smaller reef sharks that are less dangerous but can still bite you — with Maui recording the most attacks.
Different than the Great Whites and Tigers is the Bull Shark. Its body chemistry has less salt content and therefore can survive even in fresh water. Up to about 11 feet long, they’ll swim up rivers into freshwater lakes — as they do in Nicaragua, traveling 120 miles up the San Juan River from the Caribbean into Lake Nicaragua, and have even been known to swim 1,500 miles up the Amazon River.
Also the Mississippi.
Nicaraguan scientists say, “Bull sharks prefer warm shallow waters and are found worldwide in rivers and along coastlines. Because Bull sharks are unpredictable and often aggressive and because they favor shallow waters, they are considered to be one of the more dangerous species of shark from a human standpoint, and it is believed that they are responsible for the majority of shallow water attacks on humans.”
In Australia, several of the post-war cities along Queensland’s Gold Coast were patterned after Fort Lauderdale and laced with canals connecting to the sea. Bull sharks are happy to chase schools of small fish right through the heart of town.
“We’ve had quite a few people bitten by bull sharks as they tried to swim across a canal,” says Nick Kelly of Highland Park, a suburb of Gold Coast about 45 miles south of Brisbane. “A mate of mine was fishing from his balcony overlooking a canal and pulled in a 6-foot Bull shark, and he told me ‘I wouldn’t put a foot in there!’”
Another report said because of the Bull’s pugnacious disposition and penchant for sudden attacks in seemingly safe surroundings, it’s “the pit bull of the shark family.”
America’s Pacific Coast has about 40 species of sharks, three of which are dangerous to man — the Great White, Tiger and Blue Shark.
“White sharks are known to frequent the areas near river mouths during salmon spawns,” according to the Shark Research Committee, and there are reports of Great Whites attacking seals at the mouths of the Columbia and Rogue rivers.
Florida has its share of man-eaters too — especially the Bull and the Blacktip sharks that account for most attacks on humans. And they also have Tiger sharks.
One report said in North America, the most dangerous shark waters are on Florida’s Atlantic Coast at New Smyrna Beach — the “shark attack capital of the world.” A report for 2007 notes 17 of the 112 shark attacks worldwide happened there. Fortunately, none in Florida were fatal.
Around the world, there are about 100 shark attacks each year on humans, according to underwater explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau, resulting in about 12 human deaths. By contrast, “Humans are responsible for killing more than 100 million sharks each year — 11,000 every hour,” he said.
The last fatal shark attacks on the Pacific Coast were in 2010 and 2012 — both targeted surfers in waters off Vandenberg Air Force Base, in California, north of Santa Barbara.
The largest shark in the world today is the whale shark that’s about 40 feet long and weighing 47,000 pounds (some scientists claim larger sizes). Fortunately, it’s harmless to humans because it doesn’t have teeth and eats only plankton, small fish, fish eggs and other tiny marine creatures that are sifted through 300 to 350 rows of tiny teeth and 10 sieve-like filter pads in its mouth.
Thankfully, chances of being attacked by a shark are only one in 11.5 million, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File — far less probable than being killed by a bear, dog or tornado.
No shark problem in Idaho with its connection to the sea by the Snake and Columbia rivers. Bull sharks don’t mind the fresh water, but it’s too cold for them this far north — and besides, they’d have to battle the dams and locks blocking the way.
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Syd Albright is a writer and journalist living in Post Falls. Contact him at email@example.com.
Legacy of “Jaws”…
Peter Benchley didn’t do sharks or people a favor with his best-selling book “Jaws” and its subsequent movie. It painted in the minds of people that sharks are bad guys — though only a few of them are lethal to humans. All sharks are just doing what nature intended for them. Their biggest enemy are people, who kill 100 million sharks a year worldwide. And Benchley increased the Galeophobia that most people have — fear of sharks.
Sharks have a keen sense of smell — especially blood. They can detect one particle in a million and track it to the source quickly. They can see in total darkness and even in muddy water because their eyes can clarify the image. Shark eyes are actually a row of small reflective plates that redirect the light through the retina a second time, helping them also see deep in the ocean where there is little light.
Shark social life…
“At Seal Island, South Africa Great White sharks have been observed arriving and departing in stable ‘clans’ of two to six individuals on a yearly basis. Whether clan members are related is unknown but they get along peacefully enough. In fact, the social structure of a clan is probably most aptly compared to that of a wolf pack; in that each member has a clearly established rank and each clan has an alpha leader.”
USS Indianapolis and the sharks…
On July 30, 1945, two Japanese torpedoes struck the cruiser USS Indianapolis off the coast of the Philippines. The survivors weren’t rescued until three days later. Only 317 survived, the rest went down with the ship or died later from dehydration, lack of food, salt poisoning, thirst, exposure, suicide and shark attack. A 2007 episode of “Shark Week” on Discovery Channel said the sinking resulted in the most shark attacks on humans in history, blaming the shark attacks on the Oceanic Whitetip and Tiger.
In case of shark attack…
First, avoid swimming where sharks might be before sunset and sunrise and during the night. That’s when they feed.
If you’re attacked by a shark, try to stay calm. Sharks are curious critters and may just be checking you out. Keep the shark in sight if possible at all times, and swim very slowly and smoothly to a safe area — rocks, boat or beach. Don’t splash. Pray.
Here are some excellent online information and video sites about the Megalodon and hunting for their teeth: