Nearly a century ago, the ichthyologist David Stead recorded a strange unease among the lobstermen of Port Stephens, Australia. Although their livelihoods depended on the sea, the men could not bring themselves to venture out to their favorite crayfish spot near Broughton Island for fear of what they had just seen.Out there, Stead related almost half a century later in his book Sharks and Rays of Australian Seas, was a monstrous, ghostly white shark of such mind-boggling size that apparently no one could agree exactly how big the leviathan was. The shark was big enough to swallow lobster pot after lobster pot, at the least, but the size estimates Stead drew from the workers ranged from 115 feet to an “absurd” three hundred foot minimum. Despite this, Stead argued that the lobstermen must have seen something amazing. “[B]ear in mind that these were men who were used to the sea and all sorts of weather,” Stead wrote, “and all sorts of sharks as well.” There could only be one explanation for such an awful sighting, he concluded. This shark, which Stead believed to be of the “White Death type”, was a remnant of a very real species that sculled the seas for millions of years. This was the shark paleontologists now know as Carcharocles megalodon. Ending on an ominous note, Stead concluded “While they are probably not abundant they may yet be so.”Carcharocles megalodon was a real shark.* Adults of the species could reach more than fifty feet in length, and their kind sculled the ancient seas for an amazing span – about 16 to 2 million years ago. But there are some who insist that C. megalodon still lives. Ichthyologists and natural history writers from Peter Matthiessen to Richard Ellis have toyed with the idea, not to mention horror novelists and filmmakers who needed a ready-made monster. Even the now-disreputable Discovery channel has gotten in on the act, concocting a new fauxumentary filled with fake evidence that C. megalodon has survived to this day. As paleontologist Thomas Holtz, Jr. remarked, at least this is a minor improvement over the network’s Mermaidsthe network’s Mermaids in that C. megalodon really did exist.
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