Saturday, September 20, 2008

Extinct: Megalodon

Megalodon (Carcharodon megalodon) is the first installment in our Extinct series. It was the largest shark and greatest sea predator that ever lived. The photograph to the left, taken sometime in the early 20th century, shows a well-dressed man sitting casually in reconstituted megalodon jaws. It's true that men were slightly smaller in the early 20th century, but megalodon was still an enormous creature. The roaringness of the 20's aside, I doubt very much if that guy would have sat in the jaws of a living megalodon.

Megalodon lived from about 18 million to 1.5 million years ago. Estimates of its size range from 40-80 feet (see wikipedia references). It was an incredible eater, preying on a variety of marine animals including whales. The History Channel has a great show called Jurassic Fight Club, a recent show featured megalodon versus the biting sperm whale (who must have been teased relentlessly in school). The video is below.

Sharks are an incredible evolutionary success story, ruling the oceans for 400+ million years. Megalodon is the predatory apex of that extraordinary line. I think that warrants some reflection.

I actually read the book Meg by Steve Alten years ago when I worked in book publishing. Apparently, a movie has been in the works for many years, with a high-profile screenwriter attached and this amazing tagline: "The Most Fearsome Predator in History, Is No Longer History". I will definitely see this movie.

(UPDATE: image credit, "This photo was taken while the fossil jaws of a prehistoric shark, or Carcharodon megalodon, underwent restoration in 1927 © AMNH/H.S. Rice". See AMNH's Picturing the Museum)