Last year, the Discovery Channel stirred a firestorm–or maybe a Sharknado–of controversy with its docufiction “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives,” which kicked off last year’s Shark Week. As the title implies, this fake documentary posits “evidence” that the Megalodon, a truly gigantic shark that grew to over 60 feet in length and fed on whales 28 to 1.5 million years ago, is still alive and attacking rental boats off the coast of Africa. With help from doctored photos, misinformation and actors, Discovery convinced millions of viewers that the largest ocean-going predator ever to walk…um…swim the Earth was back with a tourist munching vengeance.
Not to be outdone, they topped themselves with two more docufictions this year, “Megalodon: The New Evidence,” which reminds me forcefully of Animal Planet’s “Mermaids: The Body Found” and “Mermaids: The New Evidence,” and “Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine,” which focuses on modern folklore of a 30-foot great white stalking the people of southern Africa.
The docubullcrap on Submarine was particularly chilling. As with Megalodon, they treated the whole thing as a serious matter, even when claiming that this particular shark had learned how to prey almost exclusively on humanity by teaching itself to breath while holding still (so as to beat our sonar). As obviously fake as that is, they once again fooled millions into thinking a giant shark with the mental sharpness of Sir Isaac Newton was stalking Africa’s “Shark Alley.”
So what are the facts? Not many: it isn’t impossible that a great white shark could grow to thirty feet–the longest on record being twenty-three, keeping in mind that we don’t really know how big they can get–but the odds of a shark getting that large are rather unlikely. As for Megalodon, it died long ago. A mixture of climate change, competition from the newly evolved pack-hunting orcas, and a sudden drop in its prey stocks led to its downfall. The mockumentaries claim that it could have moved into deep water to hunt giant squid–similar to the sperm whale–but there is no evidence Megalodon could even survive the pressure of those depths. What’s more; Megalodon’s hunting grounds were tropical shallow seas, it would have had to evolve, not only a different physiology to hunt like this, but another personality as well.
Even if it did, if giant squid routinely wash up on shore, there’s no reason to believe a 60-100 foot shark wouldn’t.
Why am I so angry over this? Because it’s the fucking Discovery Channel! I know I shouldn’t have expected much, this being the same network that’s been overdosing on motorcycle mechanic and nudist Survivorman shows, but I couldn’t help but hope that at least freaking Shark Week would be free of bull-crap.
Well, we lost the History Channel, Animal Planet only runs truly educational television (like “Big Cat Diary” and “Crocodile Hunter”) early in the morning, and now Discovery is unapologetically citing ratings as an excuse to run bullshit (did I mention they were defending themselves for this blatant lying?) so I guess I’ll just have to accept that educational television is dead; it was killed by the cable network god called Ratings and its loyal followers, dumbass Americans.