Coast KZN

18 Aug 2018

You wanna get your teeth into this!

Duncan Guy (Independent on Saturday) Picture: A significant difference between the great white shark and the Megalodon, however, is its mammoth size - of up to 18m.

The prehistoric Megalo- don, which has “come to life” on movie screens in cinemas this week with the release of the thriller The Meg, probably swam in the ocean off Durban’s coast more than 20 million years ago.

And the replica of the mammoth shark’s gaping jaw, where many a visitor to uShaka Sea World has had their holiday photograph taken, is a fitting icon to the theme park.

Jone Porter, education officer at uShaka, said the Megalodon’s relative, the great white shark, today faces the same problem that the huge Megalodon once suffered: climate change.

In their heyday, the massive prehistoric shark, which could grow up to 18m in length (23m in the movie), ate large whales and giant turtles.

“They were at the top of the food chain,” said Porter.

Sharks, generally, have not changed much in structure since then, she added.

“They are so well adapted to life at sea but are obviously threatened. Great whites are the modern-day iconic equivalent of The Meg and we need to look after them.”
uShaka Sea World education officer Jone Porter talks about the Megalodon. Video: Duncan Guy

The subtropical factor brought Megalodons to this part of the world, although it was more the juveniles that ventured around the shore, while the adults stayed further out in the ocean, said Porter.

The thriller film is based on the book Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror by Steve Alten. It premiered throughout South Africa on Women’s Day.

In the movie, a massive creature attacks a deep-sea submersible craft, leaving it disabled and trapping the crew at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

With time running out, rescue diver Jonas Taylor, played by action hero Jason Statham, must save the crew and the ocean itself from an unimaginable threat – the 22m-long prehistoric Megalodon.

While there are theories as to the “Meg” possibly still existing, a Forbes magazine opinion piece by Priya Shukla called “Why ‘The Meg’ is entertaining, but scientifically inaccurate” says: “Discovery Channel produced a false Megalodon documentary that seeded doubt about Megalodon’s extinction. Author Alten now espouses his non-expert beliefs that the Megalodon may still exist, repopularising conspiracy theories about undiscovered Megalodon populations as well as other falsehoods about the extinct predator.”

16082018 (Durban) Education Officer Jone Porter of Sea World pose for a picture at Ushaka Marine World on megalodon replica in Durban.
Picture: Motshwari Mofoken/African News Agency (ANA)

GINORMOUS: uShaka Sea World education officer Jone Porter shows the estimated size of the Megalodon’s jaws. (Photo: Motshwari Mofokeng / African News Agency)

According to Porter, scientists view the notion that the Megalodon still lurks about as the equivalent to the Bigfoot myth of the huge, hairy ape-like creature that leaves huge footprints in the wilderness of north-west America.

Or the Loch Ness monster.

She went on to say that Megalodon fossils that had been found were generally those of juveniles and mainly of teeth.

“A shark fossil can only come from the teeth and the vertebra. The rest is cartilage.”

This hasn’t made studying the vanished creature easy and there is controversy among taxonomists about its classification.

“We know that it’s related to the great white shark in some way, but whether it’s a close relative or not is subject to some controversy.

“We don’t have current ones to fight over.”

A significant difference between the great white shark and the Megalodon, however, is its mammoth size – of up to 18m.

“The Megalodon was three times the length of a great white shark,” said Porter.

Looking at the size of the jaw replica at uShaka Sea World, she remarked: “You can imagine how much it would have needed to eat.”

An information board posted beside it mentions that its petrified teeth were once thought to be the tongues of snakes and dragons, believed to be a remedy for snake bites and treatment of other toxins.

It’s a replica of a reconstruction of one made from fossils at the University of Florida, in the US, said Porter.