The oceans of our world are a thrumming wellspring of life and death. Here we have predator and prey constantly battling each other in a deadly ballet that has gone on since the very beginnings of our primordial oceans. In modern times, we have our top predators of the seas such as killer whales and the great white shark, and this has long been thought to be the top of the food chain, the baddest of the bad. But what if there is something even larger and more fearsome out there prowling the depths? If some reports are to be believed, then we have just scratched the surface of the sort of predators that might prowl about out there, and it seems that perhaps there is something lurking about even scarier than the biggest great white shark.
One of the more well-known cases involving some sort of gigantic ocean going predator had its start in 2003, when researchers tagged a healthy, female 9-foot long great white shark in an effort to track the movements of these mysterious and little understood sharks. So far, so good, but four months later the researchers were shocked when the tracking device washed up on a beach in Australia 2.5 miles from where the creature, who was named Shark Alpha, was initially tagged, but minus the shark. This was already odd enough as it was, but it got even stranger when the data on the device was analyzed. The data from the tracking device showed that there was a rapid temperature rise from 46 degrees to 78 degrees Fahrenheit (7°C to 25°C) along with a sudden, sharp high speed 1,902-foot plunge, suggesting that the shark had been grabbed and taken into the depths. The temperature signature was strange in that the temperature shift was so dramatic that it suggested the tag had been inside the stomach of another animal as it ate the shark. Filmmaker Dave Riggs, who made a 2014 documentary on it by the Smithsonian Institute titled Hunt for the Super Predator, would say of it:
When I was first told about the data that came back from the tag that was on the shark, I was absolutely blown away. The question that not only came to my mind but everyone’s mind who was involved was ‘what did that?’ It was obviously eaten. What’s going to eat a shark that big? What could kill a nine-foot great white? There was no algae growth and it the tag was white – it looked like it had been bleached in stomach acid. The internal temperature of the animal that ate the shark is a weird one. It appears to be too low for a killer whale and too high for another shark, unless it was massive.
Indeed, after examining the data, scientists would eventually come to the conclusion that the tagged shark had likely been devoured by “colossal cannibal great white shark.” This is actually not so far-fetched, as this sort of behavior in great white sharks has been documented before, with larger sharks preying on smaller ones, and there have been other similar cases of sharks apparently attacked by another shark massive in size. In 2019, a 12-foot long great white was found practically bit in half, and Mark Meekan, from the Australian Institute for Marine Science, would say of the photographs:
This is an enormous shark. It’s 12-feet long but look at the size of that bite, it’s absolutely massive. That’s an immense amount of power you need to take a bite out of another shark like that - you have to be pretty big yourself. If I was a betting man, I might even pick another great white shark for that one. These things are apex predators for good reason. It’s not just one rogue shark attacking other sharks or even one species of shark attacking other sharks, it’s lots of different sharks turning on each other. That shows that 300m years ago these were cannibal sharks. Shark on shark predation is a fundamental trait.
It is not known how large the cannibal shark might have been, but it would have to have been absolutely enormous to inflict that kind of damage, possibly bigger than any known shark. In another case from 2019, a 12-foot, by some estimates 15-foot, great white called “Seabatch” was found to have a massive bite scar on her left side, one that went from the front of her pectoral fin all the way to the back of her dorsal and suggested she had been attacked by something far larger than herself. Award-winning author and world-record-holding angler Max Hawthorne, author of Monsters & Marine Mysteries, has said of the case:
When I investigated evidence of giant sharks for Monsters & Marine Mysteries, I was dealing with bite widths that ranged from 27 to an astounding 48 inches. The numbers were shocking, and as I reviewed the assorted elasmobranch formulas for calculating overall length based on bites, I ended up going with the most conservative one available. That generated an estimated 26 feet in length for the Beast of Brier Island (bite marks on a humpback carcass measuring 27x37 inches) all the way to a potential 40+ foot animal that gouged a 4-foot-wide chunk out of a similar-sized whale shark (the Galapagos giant). In the case of Seabatch, based on that evidence, I was able to calculate that the attacking shark was around 28 feet in length. We’re talking an enormous cow white shark with a bad attitude. Could it be the Brier Island shark? It’s possible. White sharks cover huge distances at times, and a 1,000+ mile swim isn’t out of the question. But this bite is a bit bigger, and was inflicted two years earlier. I would bet this bite happened only a year or so earlier. It appears to have been deliberate, and from the angle, I believe it was an attempt at predation. This giant, older shark, which dwarfs the current world record great white, ‘Deep Blue’, by the way, tried to make a meal out of the younger one. Luckily, Seabatch’s speed and reflexes saved her. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have the photos to tell the tale.
It is not only other sharks that have been attacked by some massive super predator, but whales as well. One such attack was observed in 2013, around 50 miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In this account, a massive shark was allegedly seen to drag the carcass of a sperm whale underwater after apparently killing it. Witnesses claimed that they saw the enormous tail fin of a monster shark break the water’s surface, after which the whole carcass was pulled under with breathtaking force. One long time local resident explained in the Sage News:
I have lived on the coast for most of my life. I have never seen a shark's tail fin that large. It must have been the width of my fishing trawler.
About an hour after the alleged attack, the carcass of the whale was said to have washed up on shore, and displayed evidence of having been ravaged by something very aggressive and very large. One marine biologist named Robert Culper, who allegedly examined the carcass, said that it appeared as if the entire lower third of the animal had been “dissected with one bite,” and that a large tooth measuring a whopping 7.5 inches long had been found embedded within the dead whale’s spine. According to the news report, it was estimated from the size of the tooth and the bite radius that whatever had attacked the whale had been far larger than any known specimen of great white, with some estimates claiming that the beast may have been up to a staggering 100 feet long and with a bite radius of 7 to 8 feet.
What are we to make of such reports? Is this all indicative of a massive great white shark far larger than any other known, or is it something else? Accounts like these have brought up the possibility that it could be evidence of the continued existence of a long-thought to be extinct oceanic predator that once prowled the seas. In the history of our planet there are few predators that ever existed that were as terrifying and powerful as Carcharodon megalodon, also simply called the Megalodon. An enormous shark measuring up to 18meters long (60 feet), possibly more, and believed to have possessed the strongest bite of any predator that ever lived, enough to crush an automobile, the Megalodon was one of the most fearsome creatures our planet has ever seen, terrorizing the seas during the Cenozoic Era, approximately 23 to 2.6 million years ago. It was a potent killing machine larger than a bus, made up of muscle, mouth, and jagged teeth up to 8 inches long, with which it used to tear through pretty much anything it could catch. Indeed, one can only imagine what a horrific, awe inspiring thing the sight of a 60-foot-long shark lurching up from the depths would have been.
This propensity for attacking whales would actually fit in well with what is known of the behavior of Megalodon sharks, as it has been discovered in recent years that this predator often preyed on whales and other large sea creatures such as seals, sea lions, giant sea turtles, sea cows, dolphins, porpoises, and even other smaller Megalodon. Fossilized evidence in the form of ancient whale carcasses has been found that shows the characteristic marks of very large shark teeth, and in the 1990s it was ascertained by paleontologist Dr. Bretton Kent that the Megalodon was far more aggressive in its attack style than previously thought, after examining the remains of a fossilized baleen whale that had been killed by a Megalodon. Research has shown that it was a formible, terrifying predator, and Stephen Wroe, Associate Professor, University of New England, says of the Megalodon:
Based on other isolated fossil vertebrae, it’s likely the largest megalodon grew to 20 metres in length. We further determined that the Belgian specimen’s maximum gape was around 1.8 metres and that its stomach could have held 9.5 cubic metres of food. This suggests it could have entirely consumed the largest of living killer whales (around 8 metres) in just five bites. Hypothetically, it could have eaten another iconic super-predator, the Tyrannosaurus rex, in just three bites. As for great white sharks, a megalodon could have swallowed a large one whole.
Our results suggest megalodon could have comfortably cruised at over 5 kilometres per hour. This is much faster than the largest living fish, the filter-feeding whale shark, or even the great white shark, which cruises at around 3 kilometres per hour. This ocean-spanning super-predator could travel vast distances in short order, increasing prey encounter rates and allowing it to quickly move to take advantage of seasonal changes in prey abundance. Results from our analysis of energetics suggest that having eaten a big killer whale for breakfast, this megalodon could have travelled around 7,000km before needing to feed again. In short, our results show that megalodon really was the super-predator it’s been cracked up to be, and more. No creature, no matter its size, was safe from the jaws of this super shark. Its extinction likely sent tremendous cascading effects through marine environments of the time.
So what are we left with? Does the Megalodon still stalk the seas, just as much of a killing machine as it has ever been? Are reports of attacks by massive sharks evidence of surviving Megalodons or simply very large versions of modern great white sharks? With accounts of supposed Megalodons are we dealing with a genuine surviving population, misidentifications of size, or flat-out hoaxes? For now, we simply do not know. With the remote vastness of the world’s oceans, it is perhaps possible that these formidable mega predators could exist somewhere out there, but until we find solid evidence of this we can only look out to the waves and wonder if the Megalodon or something similar still lurks out there in the deep, cruising around for its next victim.