The Discovery Channel has been in deep chum all week over opening their annual Shark Week with a special called Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives. Those looking to tune in to see an exploration of the life of the presumed-extinct legendary shark were treated to something very different indeed.
Megalodon, in case you don't have SyFy, was a massive, great white relation that prowled the oceans as recently as 1.5 million years ago according to the fossil record. Because a shark's skeleton is made of cartilage (Which does not fossilize), the only evidence we have to go on are the teeth the megalodon left behind. What teeth they are, though! Recovered megalodon teeth measure over seven inches in length. Comparing them to the teeth of the great white, that puts the length of the megalodon somewhere between 50 and 80 feet long. Monster doesn't do it justice.
Many cryptozoologists think that it may be possible that the megalodon still exists in the world. A tooth analyzed by Dr. W. Tschernezky in 1959 was judged to possibly be less than 15,000 years old, though that claim has been disputed by suggesting the teeth analyzed were from earlier ocean deposits that had been churned up and re-deposited with newer sediments.
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Regardless, any cryptolozoologist can point to the coelacanth as iron-clad proof that just because an animal disappears from the fossil record it doesn't automatically rule out the possibility of survival.
None of these topics was the focus of the opening of Shark Week, though. The Discovery Channel didn't show off the latest theories on the life cycle of the giant shark, nor did thet necessarily explore modern possible sightings of the shark. Or well, they did, but only as a background for their faux-cumentary (Can be pronounced "fuck you-mentary" if you like) implying that a fishing boat off the coast of South African had been attacked by a megalodon on April 5 of this year.
Combining popular shark cryptid staples like Submarine and The Lord of the Deep that are said to inhabit the Indian Ocean, the two-hour special with production values just slightly better than a SyFy film, minus the tornado, tried to continuously convince us that 1. People were dead by the mouth of megalodon, and 2. The film crew was in constant danger of this predator stalking them like the Jaws: The Revenge rip-off it was.
There's been considerable backlash from fans and, well, everyone over the production. There's nothing wrong with a horror film that takes a documentary approach if that's what you like. What is pissing everyone off is the fact that we tuned into see a documentary and didn't get it.
The Discovery Channel seems hellbent of destroying the last bit of credibility is has. Remember a time when it's programming was boring specifically so that stupid people would flee it screaming and leave the smart people learning about the world around us?Flashback 6 Life Lessons Learned From Sharknado
Now we're stuck with what one commenter called "sharksploitation" porn, just a Hollywood suckerpunch of bloody action where as we used to get talks on conservation and evolution along with the footage of a mako shark leaping out of the water.
Worse, because it's on the Discovery Channel, people are falling for the whole thing as real! Snopes had to do an article on it and everything, and you can literally feel the exasperation dripping from the author's voice as she explains that the Discovery Channel was just pulling their leg again like they did with the mermaids.
It's unclear exactly who the hell Discovery wanted to please with this production. Shark enthusiasts wondered why they were suddenly watching The Blair Witch Project at Sea, and folks that want to see big sharks attack things are still reeling from Sharknado.
Even cryptozoologists, people that readily believe that the megalodon may still exist were extremely not amused.
Houston native Ken Gerhard, who has written three cryptozoological texts and appeared numerous times on various shows said, "These kinds of programs are all about ratings and they are bad for the field of cryptozoology, because they blur the lines between fantasy and valid research that is being done by dedicated investigators. Many people I spoke to thought it was based on reality and didn't question its authenticity."
Even more damning were the words of the famous Loren Coleman, a noted expert on sea monsters and legends as well as the author of the Field Guide to lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep. In that work he dedicates ten pages to sightings over the course of almost a century from Australia to Canada, and openly states that if megalodon was still alive at the end of the Pleistocene as Tschernezky's teeth suggest, then it's perfectly reasonable to question whether any still survive.
Despite that possibility, Coleman was even harsher in his criticism.
"I suffered through, er, watched the last 30 minutes. Terribly deceptive. The use of the phrasing, regarding 'this footage was shoot on...' was truthful, but they made it sound like what we were seeing was real because of the narrator's framing.
I taught a documentary film course for 20 years at the University of Southern Maine to 100-200 juniors and seniors a semester. We examined these kinds of programs, routinely. This may be one of the worst examples of a production trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the public with a docudrama presented as a documentary. The flash of the disclaimer at the end was unprofessional and verged on the unethical. Discovery Channel should be ashamed of itself"
People that wanted to learn about sharks got a B-horror movie.
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People that like seeing sharks attack like in a B-horror movie got an inconclusive, overly-long narrative with no pay off.
People that actively believe that megalodon might have survived extinction found the work crude, unhelpful, misleading, and pointless.
Discovery Channel? Please don't do this again.