In the interest of full disclosure, let me just say up front that Megalodons are awesome. I mean, what could be cooler than a shark similar to the great white, but three times the size, who fed on whales? They may have been the single scariest predator to ever swim the seas, armed with the most powerful jaws of any creature that ever lived. These remarkable animals are more than interesting enough to hold the interest of an audience who wants to hear about real scientific discoveries. They don’t need an agent or a publicist or a script writer who thinks that Sharknado was just a titch too academic.
The Discovery Channel apparently didn’t realize this. In a craven attempt to get their Shark Week off with a bang, they presented a 2 hour-long show called Megalodon: The Monster Shark Live. Right off the bat let me point out that these magnificent creatures aren’t live. They went extinct approximately 1 to 2 million years ago, and there is no credible evidence that they’ve been swimming around any more recently than that. The Discovery Channel didn’t let a little thing like that stand in the way?
They presented a plethora of “scientists” who claimed otherwise, and gave accounts of “real-life” encounters with the beast. These included supposed camera phone video taken by passengers aboard a charter boat attacked and sunk by the prehistoric monster. As the footage ends, the narrator informs the audience that the bodies were never found. Later, the scientist excavated a fossilized Megalodon tooth they claim was intermingled with the fossil skeleton of a whale that the shark killed. The fossilization process was so complete, that not only was the tooth completely intact, but it appeared to come out of the ground already polished.
Why would any respectable scientist lend his or her name to such a sensationalistic piece of coprolite? Well, they didn’t. It turns out that the experts in the show weren’t scientists, respectable or otherwise. They were actors. There were no real scientists involved. No research was performed. The entire thing was what’s known as a mockumentary, a work of fiction presented to make it seem like a real documentary. Hey, I love This is Spinal Tap as much as the next guy, but if that’s the kind of thing the Discovery Channel wanted to do for entertainment purposes, then they should have been more up front about it.
That’s not what they did. Discovery Communications, which owns the Discovery Channel, along with The Learning Channel, Animal Planet and the Science Channel and bills itself as “the world’s #1 non-fiction media company,” foisted this thing upon the public as if it were an actual documentary. Yes, they did have a disclaimer, but It came during the end credits, and was just explicit enough to cover their asses, but vague enough to let anyone without a law or science degree think the Megalodon they nick named “Submarine” might still be swimming around out there ready to munch on any unwary charter boats to come its way. Here is their disclaimer.
“None of the institutions or agencies that appear in the film are affiliated with it in any way, nor have approved its contents. Though certain events and characters in this film have been dramatized, sightings of ‘Submarine’ continue to this day. Megalodon was a real shark. Legends of giant sharks persist all over the world. There is still debate about what they might be.”
Is that clear enough for you? The deception was so complete that after the show aired, the Discovery Channel had the gall to do its own on-line poll, and surprise, more than 70% of the respondents who watched said they believed there was evidence that Megalodon was still alive. When confronted with a social media barrage by outrage viewers who knew better, the producers defended the show and the way it was presented. They did, however, remove the poll. This isn’t the first time the company has tried to pull the wool over the eyes of its viewers. These are the same folks who aired Mermaids: The Body Found on Animal Planet.
For any company to broadcast material like this under false pretenses is unethical. For the Discovery Channel and its partners to perpetrate this sort of fraud is unforgivable. Not only do millions of viewers tune in to watch what they believe is real information about real creatures, but millions of parents consider it educational, and let their children watch specifically because they think it will help their kids learn something. Apparently what they were supposed to learn is that ratings count more than science, advertising trumps ethics and, “there’s a sucker born every minute.”