WORMWOOD FILES: “Into the Jaws of the Megalodon” 

By Dr. Abner Mality

David Stead could not believe what he was hearing.

The year was 1918 and the location was the Broughton Island area of the Australian coast. Stead was a respected naturalist who was investigating fantastic stories of a gigantic monster terrorizing local fishermen.  These men were mostly crayfish and shellfish harvesters and some of the toughest, most no-nonsense men in the world. But Stead found that almost every one of these rugged seamen, who spent their lives on the ocean, was deathly afraid to return to the waters around Broughton Island.

What was it that caused such terror? According to all the fishermen that Stead spoke to, the clay pots they used to trap shellfish had been torn up and removed by a shark of such massive dimensions that the mind was staggered. Several of the men said that a bone-white behemoth 300 FEET LONG caused the seas to boil and grabbed the thick rope where hundreds of heavy clay pots were tethered with ease. A shark 300 feet long is absurd to contemplate, but Stead could tell the fishermen’s fear was real. Some of the men described a smaller version of the monster, but even then, they said it was the length of a typical wharf…about 115 feet! Still far larger than even the blue whale, the largest animal known.

These men were familiar with Great White Sharks, thresher sharks, whale sharks and all the other giants of the sea. They knew the giant was like nothing they had ever experienced. Some of those men never returned to the water…were afraid to even go out on a dock.

Stead knew there could be no such thing as a 300 foot shark. But what terrified the men? Perhaps, he mused, they had seen a surviving member of the most fearsome creature to ever swim the oceans…a megalodon shark!

Hey, folks, Cap’n Mality here and in this edition of the Wormwood Files, we’re gonna go hunting for shark…the biggest, orneriest man-eater that’s ever lived, the megalodon. If people get the screaming heebie-jeebies over a Great White prowling the coast, how bent out of shape would they be over a killer that makes “Jaws” look like a guppy?

There’s no doubt the megalodon was a real animal.  It first appeared in the fossil record approximately 28 million years ago and most marine biologists would tell you that it finally died out about a million and a half years ago….just about the same time a puny little primate was starting to catch on in the world. Well, how big was a megalodon? Conservative marine paleontologists put its maximum length at somewhere around 60 feet, with a weight of 60 tons. Other, more daring scientists say it could have reached a maximum size of 100 feet…not far off the more conservative estimates of the Broughton Island Monster. And it’s jaws were truly tremendous in size…a human being could easily stand inside them. Megalodon means “great tooth” and the teeth on these suckers were enormous wedges of sharp bone. The Megalodon was an eating machine that needed to consume tons of food to maintain its size…it’s diet certainly would have included large dinosaurs. Nothing in the sea with the possible exception of a monster squid or octopus could have fought it with success.

Remember earlier when I said that MOST marine biologists said this nightmare beast perished more than a million years ago? Well, the funny thing is, a deep sea expedition in 1875 pulled up two complete Megalodon teeth from the bottom of the ocean. The expedition, headquartered in the H.M.S Challenger, later tested the teeth…and dated them to about 10,000 years old! That was a shocking discovery, as 10,000 years is much later than Megalodon was believed to have survived and also a relative blink of an eye in geological time. This would put the monster shark well within the time span of modern man. Perhaps Megalodon is the factual basis for such mythical creatures as the Bible’s Leviathan?

In recent years, some have challenged the validity of the dating done on the Challenger teeth, saying methods used in 1875 were unreliable. Those scientists believe the teeth to be closer to a million years old. However, there’s a vigorous defense of the original dating and the issue is still up in the air. When talking about “extinct” sea animals, it’s always a good idea to remember our old pal, the coelacanth, supposedly extinct for more than a hundred million years but found alive and well in 1938. And there was also a time when giant squids were considered mythical creatures…they are now a well-accepted scientific fact. 

The 1918 Broughton Island sightings were not the only hint that the hungry giant still survives.  In the 1960’s, a 55 foot long fishing trawler reported that they encountered a white shark that seemed to be at least as long as their boat.  The captain of the vessel, who demanded anonymity to protect his crew from ridicule, was an experienced fisherman familiar with most sharks and even the gigantic whale shark, the biggest known fish in the sea, but could not identify this monster. Note, though, that this titan was described as being pure white…the Broughton Island seamen also made the same observation. The coloring of the real Megalodon is unknown.

We jump ahead to much more recent times…2012, to be exact…to hear a very similar story coming from the vicinity of South Africa’s Bird Island. A group of fisherman there claimed they also ran into a shark the size of their boat. South African waters are known to be the haunting ground for many varieties of shark. When the crew were asked if they had just seen a very large Great White, they vigorously denied the possibility.

One location notorious for sightings of giant sharks is the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. Many reports have come from the area about giant sharks and there have ominously been a number of mysterious boat disappearances there. At certain times, the local population of seals and sea lions drops dramatically, as if something is preying upon them. A 2009 expedition in connection with the “Monsterquest” TV show searched for evidence of surviving megalodon but found nothing concrete.

The Monsterquest episode is just one example of how Megalodon has crashed into the public consciousness in recent years. Steve Alten’s “MEG” books have been runaway best sellers and will soon hit movie screens in a film featuring Jason Statham. The subject of the Megalodon has popped up in a lot of heavy metal songs,too, including cuts by Manilla Road, Evile and more. But by far the most infamous appearance of the monster shark was in a Discovery Channel special of 2013 entitled “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives”. This was a fictional “documentary” filmed to look as close as possible as the real thing. It was a realistic looking story about a search for one of the supposedly extinct creatures. A very convincing CGI version of a Meg was created and at one point in the show, it seemed to devour a rather stupid marine biologist who was trying to physically tag it. The special fooled millions into thinking it was a real documentary and caused a huge scandal for the Discovery Network. Eventually a full retraction was published but this phony bit of “reality TV” probably did more harm than good as far as the real search for the monster went.

The Discovery Channel special was quite well researched and accurate in its portrayal of Megalodon’s feeding habits and behavior.Many who maintain that the creature could still be alive believe that a breeding population of the monsters may have retreated to the deepest part of the ocean, the Marianna Trench. But that theory doesn’t fit the facts. Despite its great size, Megalodon was never a creature of the deep ocean. It spent most of its time in relatively shallow coastal waters, seeking the fish and mammals that teemed there. The Sea of Cortez was in fact an ideal place for a Megalodon to hunt, the same as Broughton Island. 

This is not to say that it would be impossible for a Meg to dive into the deep parts of the ocean. The truth is, there is still much about the beast we do not know. It may indeed have been colored a ghostly white, too. We only have teeth and bones to go on.

Sightings of gigantic sharks are not terribly frequent but they do occur. And most come from the Southern Hemisphere. The south coast of India and the seas around Sri Lanka have also been haunted by monsters resembling Megalodon.

You might be wondering what the Good Doctor’s opinion on Meg’s survival is. Surprisingly, I don’t think it is too likely. When you understand what kind of an animal Megalodon is and where it used to be found, the probability of survival today is almost non-existent. As stated earlier, Megs were coastal creatures who didn’t venture into the deeps of the oceans. And they were non-stop eating machines that had to consume massive amounts of meat to keep alive. Consider that a certain number is needed for a viable breeding population, it would be strange that the giants are not seen much more often. Think of how many Great Whites and even whales are seen. Even if a Meg itself was elusive, we should see more evidence of its voracious appetite…i.e., missing boats and people. But only a  very few sightings have been made.
Even the giant squids, also monstrous predators, are seen more frequently…and they ARE deep sea creatures. So where are the Megalodon? Unless there are only a couple around…extremely unlikely yet not impossible…they must be extremely good at hiding. And biology suggests that they are not exactly rocket scientists of the predator world…sharks are pretty dull-witted, actually.

Maybe what people are seeing around Broughton Island and the Sea of Cortez is something different than a Megalodon…some kind of voracious monster fish that rarely comes to areas where men can see it. David Stead was convinced that the fishermen of Broughton Island saw SOMETHING. 

The ocean is in peril these days and man is starting to probe into areas hitherto considered unexplorable. To say that there is no chance of large creatures being discovered in the ocean is certainly naïve.

Just be extra careful next time you go swimming in the briny deep. If you see a shark fin the size of a refrigerator, you better….ah, it’s already too late for you. It was nice knowing you!

This is Dr. Abner Mality, turning out the lights.