The Shark Week 2013 Fake Megalodon Lives Documentary Fiasco
For Shark Week 2013 the Discovery Channel promised a search for the Megalodon shark, a 60-foot monster that went extinct over a million years ago. What they presented was a fake documentary, complete with actors and computer-simulated footage, and people got pretty upset about it.
I don’t watch a lot of television, but I do love the Discovery Channel, and I love sharks, paleontology, and cryptozoology. When I heard they were going to do this documentary in search of the Megalodon shark I was pretty excited.
Now that the reviews are in, I’m quite a bit less enthusiastic. It seems the Discovery Channel took an opportunity to present one of the most stunning predators the planet has ever seen to a world-wide audience and chose the worst angle possible.
The Real Megalodon Story
I’ve written a lot about Megalodon. Believe me when I tell you if Discovery wanted to piece together real stories and theories of how and why this shark might still exist they didn’t have to make much up.
I also find it hard to believe they would have trouble locating a real cryptozoologist who would be willing to mount an expedition in search of a living Megalodon.
There are all kinds of tales of giant sharks out there in the world today, most presumed to be huge great whites. Of course, fishermen have been known to exaggerate, and when someone says they spotted a 40-foot white shark it really could have been half that size.
That’s still a darn big great white, but it’s no Megalodon. The point is these stories exist in abundance, and there didn’t need to be any fiction involved to make the case for giant sharks out there in the world today.
The other side of this is that there really was a Megalodon shark, once upon a time. Because of this documentary I’ve been reading all kinds of mixed-up facts on the real shark, which really did exist. At the very least Discovery had an opportunity to educate us from a paleontology perspective, and explain what we really know for sure about this beast, and how we know it.
And this is a subject that didn't need much coaxing. An ongoing poll I've been conducting since April 2012 shows, of over 37,000 people surveyed, 54% believe it is scientifically plausible that the Megalodon shark could still exist. Another 35% said it was possible but unlikely. Only 7% said no.
For the Discovery Channel, this seems like it was an easy one to knock out of the park.
Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives
What About that Mermaid Thing?
A couple of years back Animal Planet aired a show on mermaids with a similar real-documentary feel to it. That one was faked too, but nobody was nearly as upset over it. Why, and what’s the difference?
For one thing, Discovery is a bit of a victim of their own success here. They’ve built Shark Week up to be such a huge event, and millions of people around the world look forward to it every year. When they tune in, they’re expecting to see real sharks. Or at least a real story about sharks. What people were not expecting was to be effectively duped.
Secondly, there was some real science in the mermaid documentary, particularly when it came to Aquatic Ape Theory. This is a real hypothesis on human evolution, held by real anthropologists. Of course, it has nothing whatsoever to do with mermaids, but when Animal Planet connected the two it was pretty darn clever. Sure, the footage was faked and the actors were transparent, but the premise behind it was very interesting, if unlikely.
Finally, mermaids are just less believable. I don’t think anyone got the idea that Animal Planet was trying to trick anyone. Once you “got it”, you could just sit back and enjoy the show, which, once again, involved some very interesting theories.
Don't Be an Idiot
I’m pretty open-minded. To have an interest in cryptozoology, you have to be. But I’m not a moron, and I evaluate any piece of information I come across with a careful eye. Truly, I think the chance that Megalodon is still alive out there somewhere in the vast ocean is very, very small. But I don’t think it’s zero. Saying it’s completely impossible would be just as dumb as saying I know for sure it still exists.
The fact is we don’t know. We can’t know. Especially when you’re talking about something as vast and unexplored as the ocean, you just can’t know. That hope of finding something unlikely and unexplainable is what drives many of the most amazing discoveries our world has seen.
The problem is the Discovery Channel took a subject where there was so much room for speculation, and made people feel stupid for believing it is possible. They had a chance to present solid theories on why Megalodon could still be around, and show some perspective from real cryptozoologists who feel passionately about the subject, but instead chose to sensationalize the whole thing. Isn’t cryptozoology sensational enough?
Discovery could have done much better. The Megalodon shark is a fascinating subject, and even if you don’t believe it could still be alive today I’d imagine you’d prefer to see a show about real theories instead of a fake documentary.
With the success of shows like Finding Bigfoot and Destination Truth, I was expecting cryptozoology to get more respect.
I'm no Idiot!
Were you fooled by the Shark Week Megalodon Program?
Now, several years later, the intellectual climate has certainly shifted when it comes to the paranormal. Where it once was interesting to ponder the "what ifs" of the world by looking at witness accounts and possible evidence, thanks to obviously faked shows such as Megalodon Lives the world of cryptozoology is permanently damaged.
It is hard enough to get average people to have a little curiosity about fringe theories and paranormal creatures without them feeling embarrassed. Now, the world has been duped and played for suckers, and there is no going back.
Unless you’d already spent some time researching the Megalodon shark, don’t be too hard on yourself if you believed the show. When it comes down to it, really it’s just a harmless television program, meant to be entertaining and nothing else. But it is disappointing that Discovery doesn't see enough value in the real Megalodon of cryptozoology, and felt the need to make up so much nonsense.
It reminds me of how I felt when then the movie Titanic came out. When I first heard about it I was pretty excited, expecting a film based around the real events that led to the sinking of the Titanic. You know, maybe they’d focus on the captain, or the crew, or even the iceberg for all I cared. Instead, what we got was a silly love story that may as well have been staged on a Carnival cruise ship.
I never did see Titanic.
I still love you, Discovery Channel! But please don't do this again!
© 2013 Luther Urswick