With interests in science and nature, I explores topics from a unique and sometimes controversial perspective.
For Shark Week 2013 the Discovery Channel promised a search for the megalodon shark, a 60-foot monster that went extinct millions of 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 ideas about megalodon, a creature that 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 plausible that the megalodon shark could still exist. Another 35% say it is 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.
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 the Aquatic Ape Theory. This is a real theory 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 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.
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.
I'm no Idiot!
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 real 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!
DragonKiss83 on August 15, 2014:
They made a sequel that aired tonight and it was even worse. It centered on "new evidence" that included some terrible cg. The first show could be passed off as something that started as a real search and yielded nothing so they sensationalized everything. This new one is total trash.
cryptid (author) from USA on June 27, 2014:
Unfortunately, that seems to be the case. A few networks seem to be moving toward these programs that appear to be documentaries, but are in fact fiction. Always good to have a skeptical mind.
Kristen from Nassau on June 27, 2014:
Oh my. I had no idea. Now I've got to pay attention to everything on Discovery Channel for fear that its all fake *seriously disappointed*.
Joe from north miami FL on June 02, 2014:
Yeah discover channel had a mockumentary. I'm a huge fan of shark week so I understand
cryptid (author) from USA on April 07, 2014:
Sounds like you watched the Discovery Channel fake documentary. It is very entertaining, but fiction. (Don't tell your sister :-) )
greeneyedblondie on April 06, 2014:
I think I actually watched something like this on Animal Planet, I'm not sure what channel it was though. It was an hour long thing with people throwing miles worth a chum and had a fake whale made to try to lure in the "megladon." My sister watched it with me and she is completely convinced it's still alive after watching the boat get rocked, and the watch being gone. I'm still not sure. They said they did it in April of 2013.
cryptid (author) from USA on November 09, 2013:
Hi Carlos. Everything you saw in that "documentary" was either doctored footage, taken out of context, or completely fabricated. Discovery has owned up to the show being fictional.
Carlos on November 08, 2013:
So, are you really saying that the interview with the brazilian coast guard officer was fake too? It was an actor, instead of a real brazilian navy officer?? If he is a real brazilian officer, so he was lying, right?? And what about the footage taken by a deep survey robot at the sea floor? Is it fake too?
kittyluv64 on September 16, 2013:
i knew that it was fake when i saw it from the beginig .
cryptid (author) from USA on August 16, 2013:
Megalodon did not really sink a boat. Megalodon did not really bite the tail off a whale. The Brazilian coast guard does not really have footage of Megalodon swimming past a rescue swimmer. All the footage was dramatized. As for how they spliced together real footage and manufactured, only Discovery knows (but we can guess).
I've been following cryptozoology and Megalodon for a while. If this stuff was real, there is no way all of these videos and images would have escaped the cryptozoology community for weeks, months or even years, only to turn up on a Discovery Channel show. :-)
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Kathy from New Jersey , USA on August 16, 2013:
I saw the megladon feature on discovery too and I thought it looked real, so the boat accident didn't happen or did it ? I think part of the film was real and what about the large shark spotted eating the whale ? Also what about the Brazilian rescue with that giant shark ,what about that part? I also read the article that discovery put out and it did't say the documentary was fake or anything like that they just said some parts of the film were exaggerated a little or recreated. So maybe the general parts of it were real .
Joe on August 14, 2013:
The thing that really fascinated me the most was the video of the ocean floor & in the background you see a fin attached to a giant creature swimming in the background. 1st I'd love to know where that video came from so I can re-watch it & 2nd - Something that big swimming around in the ocean is all the evidence I need to never have any desire to go into said ocean.
cryptid (author) from USA on August 13, 2013:
@Deanna: It is what it is, I suppose. I'm looking forward to it too, but not as much as I would have been if they were really looking for the shark, which, of course, they wouldn't find. :-)
@carrie: Unfortunately, fake shows just make people like us feel silly for what we believe might be possible in the world. They make me feel that way, anyway!
Carrie Lee Night from Northeast United States on August 12, 2013:
Cryptid: Thank you for taking the time to write an interesting article. I did not get to see the show, but my husband did. I have been interested in sharks since I was five. Megaladon shark always fascinated me. Like you I believe it could exist, but when people constantly fake things I guess we will never know even if the real thing came up and bit us in the a**. Again thank you for writing :) Have a great week :)
Deanna Balestra from St. Louis, MO on August 12, 2013:
I have to say I am a fan of the mockumentary - especially if they are really well done! I loved the mermaid one! I didn't know about this one until I saw your hub and I can't wait to watch it now!
cryptid (author) from USA on August 12, 2013:
"Blair Witch Projact meets Shark Week" LOL!
Jeannie Marie from Baltimore, MD on August 12, 2013:
I saw the program the night it aired. It was kind of like Blair Witch Project meets Shark Week.... even with mysterious footage found on a boat since the people on the boat were missing and presumed dead. What a disappointing show!
Elias Zanetti from Athens, Greece on August 11, 2013:
Haven't seen the show yet but I would be interested to. I totally agree that such shows should keep, at least, a minimum of scientific credibility instead of making merely entertainment shows.
Jason Benedict from Boca Raton, Florida on August 09, 2013:
I heard this covered on Cnets podcast the other day. Pretty interesting.
yankeeintexas from Lubbock, Texas on August 09, 2013:
I never got to watch any of this years Shark Week but I agree with Jalapeno10! The educational channels need to be more focused on facts versus making these fake documentaries. Like many people I watched the Mermaid documentary. I was shocked to by what appeared to very compelling evidence of the existence of mermaids. At the of the show all I could do was laugh when I read in the credits that it was fake. What is really funny I still meet people the still believe that it was real.
cryptid (author) from USA on August 09, 2013:
Thanks Jalpen101. A lot of people already think cryptozoology is just a bunch of made up fantasy, but Discovery for some reason had to make up fantasy on top of that. Well, they got their ratings, I guess.
Jalapeno10 on August 09, 2013:
Great article. These 'educational' TV stations are really selling out to hype and drama. New generations should be getting smarter but instead they're losing touch with reality because of all the hoaxes and conspiracy theories they are exposed to every day on the internet, and now what is supposed to be a trusted educational channel goes for ratings by making these fake documentaries. I still see teens on message boards like every day asking about mermaids... it's very sad. This is excellent work here, voted up and ++++ across the board.
cryptid (author) from USA on August 08, 2013:
@Porshadoxus: They weren't biologists; they were actors. Just like the "scientists" in the Animal Planet Mermaid documentary. Discovery has owned up to this. The documentary was fake.
But you shouldn't feel duped at all. It was very well done, from what I've seen of it. And you shouldn't let it dissuade you from the idea that Megalodon could be out there. Certainly there *may* be a remnant population of Megalodon somewhere that survived, but I'd be more excited about a real documentary about real cryptozoologists, or even brave marine biologists who were willing to put their careers on the line, searching for it rather than this fictional thing they did.
Porshadoxus from the straight and narrow way on August 08, 2013:
The video you included mentioned the South Africa incident of April 2013. About 2 hours before shark week officially started, Discovery aired a documentary about a group searching for the attacking creature from that incident. They claimed that the damage and result of the attack could only be a accomplished by a predator the size of megalodon.
According to the Discovery documentary, the team involved built a whale decoy to tow behind their boat, sprayed a chum slick over 5 miles long, then waited. When the mass of normal sharks feeding on the chum suddenly disappeared from sensors, the dive team quickly entered the cage. They managed to attach a transmitter to a massive creature that swam past their cage, then tracked that signal down to 6400+ feet before they lost the signal. They explained that sharks are not known to dive that deep.
Now, I'm no marine biologist or even an amateur in this field, but the tone and tension of the story seemed pretty real to me. Did Discovery find an entire crew of biologists and get them to fake the whole thing? I find that harder to believe than believing that megalodon is out there. Could not the changes in climate precipitate behavioral changes in wildlife?
I don't feel as though I've been duped on this one.
cryptid (author) from USA on August 08, 2013:
@ sheila: Yeah, I haven't seen it yet, but I will. So disappointed though. I was really looking forward to a real search for Megalodon.
@ Solaras: I'm glad someone else sees what I mean about Titanic! I thought the world had gone mad back when that movie was so popular!
Barbara Fitzgerald from Georgia on August 07, 2013:
Interesting and thumbs up. I hated Titanic for the very reasons you detail. The actual events were not dramatic enough??? Watch it if you want to hate yourself in the morning...
sheilamyers on August 07, 2013:
I was going to ask you if you got a chance to watch the show and what you thought about it. Now I know. Thanks for sharing your opinions.
mbuggieh on August 07, 2013:
Very true, but I wonder how each/either is received by the viewer.
cryptid (author) from USA on August 07, 2013:
Good example. Sharknado can at least be looked at as a tongue-in-cheek joke. I can imagine that's what the writers were aiming for. This Megalodon documentary is something else.
mbuggieh on August 07, 2013:
Exactly! Have you heard/read about the "Sharknado" buzz generated on Twitter after SyFy aired one of their made-for-TV movies called "Sharknado"?
The movie is now showing in some theaters and people are talking about it becoming a cult classic...;)
cryptid (author) from USA on August 07, 2013:
I think you're on to something, mbuggieh. Attention spans are shorter and people have more choices than ever. Television networks need to stand on their heads to get people to pay attention. Well, one thing is for sure, this got people's attention!
mbuggieh on August 07, 2013:
I think that television is increasingly becoming an entertainment medium. The news is not news. The news is political and social entertainment. Documentary television is not documentary television. Documentary television is historical and scientific entertainment---most of which is highly fictionalized and speculative at best.
I wonder if much of this is not part of an effort by television networks to compete with the world-wide web; to compete in a 365/24/7 news and events world; to compete with the almost instantaneous access to information available on the web.