What If Megalodon Sharks Didn't Go Extinct?

VOICE OVER: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Nick Roffey
Megalodon sharks were mighty predators of prehistoric waters. And in today's world they're a film and TV favourite whenever a marine monster is needed! But what if they still prowled our real-life oceans today? What if megalodon never went extinct? Would you ever go anywhere near the ocean without feeling terrified??

What If Megalodon Sharks Didn't Go Extinct?

In prehistoric times, gigantic predators prowled the world’s waterways. Armoured placoderms haunted river bottoms in the Paleozoic era; Plesiosaurs trawled the sea bottom to ambush helpless fish; but even they were preyed on by the massive mosasaurs. Today, one colossal creature seems to have crept into our common consciousness more than most, though; the megalodon. Straight outta the Cenozoic era, it was a sleek, 60-foot long, toothed torpedo with gigantic, bone-crushing jaws.

As we all know, all of these magnificent monsters went extinct millions of years ago. But what would the world be like if the megalodon was still around?

For starters, some cryptozoologists already claim that megalodon did survive, and might now reside in deep ocean canyons such as the Mariana Trench. Occasionally, sailors have reported seeing super-sharks of impossible proportions. In a famous case in 1918, a frightened fisherman told Australian naturalist David Stead they’d seen an immense, ghostly white shark off the coast of New South Wales. A decade later, American author Zane Grey glimpsed a “yellowish” monster while fishing in the South Pacific. The megalodon wouldn’t be the first species to pull a Lazarus either. The coelacanth was supposed to have gone extinct 66 million years ago, until it was rediscovered in 1938. For now though, the evidence that megalodon still roams our waters remains entirely anecdotal.

Carcharocles megalodon – to give it its technical name – was a pinnacle predator, a true terror of the deep that fed on dolphins and whales. Its prodigious rows of teeth, serrated to slice through flesh, were even once thought to be dragons’ tongues. The species preferred warm, coastal waters, and might have died out due to oceanic cooling 2.6 million years ago, or thanks to a dwindling food supply.

But, let’s assume that it adapted to the colder habitat, and for whatever reason its food remained plentiful... On the one hand, lucky us! We’d have a colossal and fascinating prehistoric beast to marvel over! On the other, would we ever go anywhere near our oceans without feeling at least a little bit terrified? The prehistoric predators that we already know of – like saltwater crocs and great white sharks – are scary enough in themselves. But, imagine if instead of a fish the size of a car, a carnivore larger than a bus could be lurking somewhere below. Even close to shore, megalodon might be in hot pursuit of anyone out for a seaside swim.

Fortunately for us, humans wouldn’t likely be a megalodon’s main meal, or even part of its regular diet. An adult megalodon may have needed up to 2,500 pounds of food daily. Which would make us at most an incidental side of fries next to hearty whaleburgers and sea lion parfait. In all seriousness though, Megalodon’s culinary predilections would probably spell serious problems for some of today’s most recognizable marine species – including all types of whale, which could find themselves hunted by a predator superior in size and strength, sporting an insatiable appetite.

Since the 17th century, industrialized whaling has decimated whale populations, with blue, bowhead, finback, sperm and humpback whales among the many that have been listed as endangered at various points in time. Assuming that megalodons would continue to prefer warmer waters, bowhead whales, which reside in the Arctic, might avoid most of them… but the others would face all new challenges. And if megalodon had adapted enough to brave the polar regions, well, there’d be nowhere to hide – even for killer whales, who inhabit both tropical and polar seas.

You might imagine that a clash between those two would make for one heck of a battle - but even a large, six-tonne killer whale wouldn’t stand a chance against megalodon, which is believed to have weighed between a staggering 50 to 100 tonnes. Even against a whole pod of orcas, you’d probably still bet on the megalodon.

There is one slight silver lining for the whale population though, because if megalodons had continued to thrive they would’ve made open boat whaling an even more hazardous enterprise than it already is – by attacking whale carcasses as they’re towed alongside the ship.

That said, if the megalodon was still here, no doubt it would be hunted by humans as well – probably pursued as an incredibly ample source of shark fin soup. In fact, according to the calculations of marine conservation biologist David Shiffman, you could specifically make 70,456 bowls of the stuff from one megalodon. Shark skin, oil, and cartilage is also (often controversially) used in clothing, cosmetics, and medicines. So, somewhat depressingly, we’d likely have special ships designed specifically to hunt megalodons, probably using explosive harpoons as in modern whaling, or fishing lines attached to cranes.

Sure, you’d need a big boat and big gear, but when it comes to killing things, humans have historically proven to be an awfully ingenious and determined bunch. And, though megalodon maiming would no doubt attract widespread criticism, it could threaten the species’ existence all over again. In fact, if megalodons had survived the Ice Age, they may ultimately have perished from overfishing and, again, scarcity of food.

Of course, megalodons would have had a deep impact on human history and culture long before industrial fishing and whaling, however. When humans migrated out of Africa, some passed through Asia into Indonesia and Australia, and on to the Pacific Islands. Others crossed from mainland Europe to the British Isles, or across the Bering land bridge to North America and throughout the Caribbean. How would these early seafarers have contended with the might of megalodon? Would these curious – and perhaps peckish – patrollers of the sea have bitten into dugouts and rafts, the way inquisitive great whites do into surfboards and swimmers? As if storms, starvation, and shipwreck weren’t already hazards enough, megalodons would have added to the terrors of travelling by boat.

As a seafaring alternative to Big Foot or the Yeti, ‘Ol’ Big Tooth’ would probably loom large in myth and religion, as well. Megalodon might have taken the place of our storied sea monsters, or inspired new tales. We might have had a biblical super-shark, or a whole new opponent for Hercules. Who knows, maybe today we’d say “release the megalodon” instead of “release the kraken”. It would no doubt be a prominent feature in literature and film, too. Moby Dick might have had a whole lot more teeth, and Captain Nemo’s Nautilus would have braved foes even deadlier than the giant squid. Santiago, the fisherman in Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”, might have worried about more than just losing his catch. And as for the shark in “Jaws” . . . well, you’re gonna need a way, way, way bigger boat.

Our attitude toward sharks might also have changed proportionally. Today, sharks are feared and often misunderstood. Supersizing them could only make this worse… or it could mean that we’re less worried about your everyday hammerhead or great white because, well, they wouldn’t be quite as ‘great’ – by comparison.

Ultimately, though, our probable fear of the megalodon would stand side by side with our open-mouthed wonder. The creature would exist as a legendary link to our planet’s ancient history, and as a stark reminder of how small (and potentially powerless) we humans really are. Just make sure that you’re not in the water when this thing passes by!