Sunday, 19 October 2008

Mega Sharks!!!

The megamouth shark is one of the largest sharks currently known to exist. Many of those interested in cryptozoology like to remind people this shark was only discovered on the 15th November 1976, proving once again we really do still have a lot to learn about what lies out there in the oceans.

But before I get onto the topic of giant sharks, I'd like to make a little correction to many of the sources I've been reading up on; a lot state the megamouth shark was identified by cryptozoologists. This is absolutely not true, and I hate it when someone's hard work is ignored simply to big up the case for someone else's beliefs. Let's get clear about this; the megamouth shark was discovered by accident by a U.S. Navy vessel and was identified as a new species by the very well respected ichthyologist Dr. Leighton Taylor. I've spent this morning getting increasingly more grumpy with those who keep stating "this was one of cryptozoology's greatest finds!!"

I love cryptozoology dearly but if other supporters of cryptozoology keep stealing scientists hard earned research and labelling it the work of "cryptozoology" then they leave the entire idea of research into undiscovered animals open to well deserved ridicule and disgust. If we go down this route every animal discovered since the dawn of time is the work of cryptozoology!!

Anyway, rant over, back to the story. The megamouth shark can grow to sizes of up to 5.5 m in length. This is nothing compared to the whale shark, the largest fish living today, which can grow to lengths up to 12.2m long. But do not worry because, as you almost certainly know, both these sharks are filter feeders and are not the sort of things that are going to give anyone who lives and works near the sea sleepless nights. The whale shark in particular is a creature of great beauty and one I hope I am lucky enough to see one day (in an ecologically non disruptive way of course!!).

However could something larger, and perhaps more stereotypically "shark like", lurk in the great depths of our planets oceans?

"In the year 1918 I recorded the sensation that had been caused among the "outside" crayfish men at Port Stephens, when, for several days, they refused to go to sea to their regular fishing grounds in the vicinity of Broughton Island. The men had been at work on the fishing grounds---which lie in deep water---when an immense shark of almost unbelievable proportions put in an appearance, lifting pot after pot containing many crayfishes, and taking, as the men said, "pots, mooring lines and all". These crayfish pots, it should be mentioned, were about 3 feet 6 inches [1.06 m] in diameter and frequently contained from two to three dozen good-sized crayfish each weighing several pounds. The men were all unanimous that this shark was something the like of which they had never dreamed of. In company with the local Fisheries Inspector I questioned many of the men very closely and they all agreed as to the gigantic stature of the beast. But the lengths they gave were, on the whole, absurd. I mention them, however, as a indication of the state of mind which this unusual giant had thrown them into. And bear in mind that these were men who were used to the sea and all sorts of weather, and all sorts of sharks as well. One of the crew said the shark was "three hundred feet [90 m] long at least"! Others said it was as long as the wharf on which we stood---about 115 feet [35 m]! They affirmed that the water "boiled" over a large space when the fish swam past. They were all familiar with whales, which they had often seen passing at sea, but this was a vast shark. They had seen its terrible head which was "at least as long as the roof on the wharf shed at Nelson's Bay." Impossible, of course! But these were prosaic and rather stolid men, not given to 'fish stories' nor even to talking about their catches. Further, they knew that the person they were talking to (myself) had heard all the fish stories years before! One of the things that impressed me was that they all agreed as to the ghostly whitish color of the vast fish. The local Fisheries Inspector of the time, Mr Paton, agreed with me that it must have been something really gigantic to put these experienced men into such a state of fear and panic."
Taken from Sharks and Rays of Australian Seas - David George Stead

A 35m long shark? Impossible? It certainly is quite an awesome size, for even the infamous extinct megalodon only reached sizes of less than 20m. I think the following picture showing a megalodon, a great white and human gives you an idea of just how big that would be:

Let's be clear, if you saw a 35m long shark, you would not be going back on a boat for quite some time. Interestingly there is another eyewitness report of a giant white coloured shark in the waters of northern Australia:

In the 1960’s along the outer edge of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, an 85 foot [26 m] ship experienced engine trouble which forced it to weigh anchor for repairs. Although the men subsequently refused to openly report what they had seen for fear of public ridicule, the captain and his crew later told friends of sighting an immense shark as it moved slowly past their ship. Whitish in color, they were awed by its size. It was as long if not longer than their boat! Experienced men of the sea, they too were certain the creature was not a whale.
Let’s Go Fossil Shark Tooth Hunting - Clay Cartmel

These supposed sightings (and both really wouldn't hold water as evidence in a court of law let alone) are far too big simply to be large specimens of the great white shark (who despite it's name would also not match up with the description of the shark being white). So if the sightings are to be believed they are of either a completely new species of shark or perhaps of a species thought extinct such as the megalodon.

My example stories come from No Megalodon Survival, a web page both expertly refuting the existence of giant sharks (specifically the concept of them being relict megalodon populations) and providing interesting data on that great extinct creature.

One compelling piece of evidence for the existence of a extra large shark species are globsters. Globsters are a mainstay of any marine cryptozoological study, but most tend to be either decomposing whales or basking sharks. Interestingly a decomposing basking shark can often look like the corpse of a plesiosaur, perhaps part of the reason for continued belief that such creatures still exist. Anyway, some of these globsters can be of immense sizes, up to 30 odd metres long. Perhaps, just perhaps, these might in fact be the remains of some majestic giant shark that still remains unknown to science.

The picture above shows just how large a great white is capable of getting. Sadly, for those of us who love sharks (and I truly think sharks are some of the greatest creatures known to man), it's unlikely such large sharks will ever be seen by human eyes again. Thanks to increased human predation of these beautiful creatures few will stand much chance of living long enough to reach such amazing sizes. If a large predatory shark does still exist, it's days are almost certainly numbered. Such a shark would need such large quantities of food, almost certainly mammalian, and with the ever decreasing population of whales and other marine mammals it's food source would be rapidly depleting. So thankfully for the hydrophobic, the likelihood of encountering a shark of prehistoric sizes is too tiny to really worry about.

But don't let that stop us from continuing to explore the ocean depths, for no doubt there is much still to find out there.

Further Reading

Sure it's fictional, but it's also highly entertaining. Plus it is likely to soon be a movie, so if you buy it now you'll have the kudos of being able to laugh at your ill informed friends when going to see the movie and can then complain post-movie about how the film "wasn't as good as the book".


Gee said...

The concept of massive sharks is something that you don't hear a lot about these days. It is entirely possible however. Considering (and I know I reference this all the time but it's late and I'm tired) seeing that a fully grown Colossal Squid has yet to be discovered and examined then theoretically anything could be splashing about the ocean going undetected.

But I agree, if we ever found one we'd probably end up harpooning it out of existence.

ManoDogs said...

Once again, an excellent post! You are very thorough.

I agree with your mini-rant and take care to pay attention to such things whenever I cover a topic. "Orbs" are not "proof" of anything; unidentified does not mean "paranormal" or "unknown;" and on down the line. And though I completely agree with you, I do want to note that - technically speaking - the megamouth was unknown at the time of its discovery, so while it was discovered/identified by an ichthyologist, I see no problem with people including it in the cryptozoological canon. But, as you point out, it isn't like an actual cryptozoologist went looking for it or anything, so it shouldn't be used to prop-up the field.

Again, excellent work and it goes back to what I said on your last post, as to how many prehistoric creatures could very well still exist - even thrive - just outside humanity's ken.

Amran Shahir Ismail said...

I'm never going to surf.. ever.. after reading this :P

Mico said...

I was caught in this blog and I have become engrossed in reading. I have a lot of stuff to do yet I am stuck here. Congrats! I enjoy reading your posts!