4 Megalodon And Other Shark Myths, Debunked
Between all the popular movies, cartoons, documentaries, and yearly week-long events about them, everyone knows a whole lot of facts about sharks. Too bad many of those "facts" are utter nonsense that managed to fool everyone -- including, believe it or not, us at Cracked.com. Such as ...
No, There's No Way Giant Prehistoric Sharks Are Still Around
You might have skipped the 2018 thriller The Meg thinking it wouldn't be very thrilling to watch Jason Statham being chased by a woman named Megan for 113 minutes, but no -- the film is actually about a group of researchers bumping into a 75-foot-long prehistoric shark, or megalodon. The movie posits that such a massive species could have survived by sticking to the depths of the ocean, because who the hell knows what's down there? There could be whole packs of Cthulhus floating around and we'd never know!
But it's not just Hollywood movies: in 2013, the Discovery Channel aired a documentary showing evidence that not only are 70-feet sharks still around, but they've gotten bigger. By our calculations, the Earth's oceans will be one big megalodon by the year 3000 or so and every week will be Shark Week. Because the creators of Amish Mafia, Guy Fiery's Grocery Games, and 1000-Lb. Sisters would never lie to us, right?
Well, first of all, about that Discovery "documentary": it was a "docufiction" (read: completely fake), though you could be excused for thinking it was real if you watched it through the corner of your eye and didn't notice the obvious CGI because there was no disclaimer about its fakeness within the show itself the first time it aired. In fact, there's still no disclaimer about that on that YouTube video with 7 million views up there, even though a quick glance at the comments confirms that there really should be.
But, as The Meg and a lot of the geniuses in that comments section point out, haven't we explored only a tiny percentage of the ocean? Isn't it possible that some whale of a shark is just chilling in the unknown depths? Nope, that has been conclusively ruled out by researchers who determined that megalodons likely lived in "waters no more than (656 feet) deep, in and around coastal areas." And if it somehow did survive in deeper waters, it would have shrunk down over time to adapt to the smaller selection of food available down there, not gotten bigger.
The researchers even determined the date of their extinction: 2.6 million years ago. Which means The Meg can still be accurate if they simply add a title screen saying "2.6 million years ago ..." at the start and some casual dialogue about how Jason Statham and the others are all, say, mastodons.
No, Coconuts Don't Kill More People Than Sharks Every Year
This factoid has been shared by legitimate sources like The New York Times, ABC News, and, uh, Cracked.com. The idea is that every time you're trying to put some thing or animal's deadliness in perspective, you'll compare them to the unlucky 150 people killed by falling coconuts every year. For instance, sharks kill only five people a year by current estimates, so if you're more scared of sharks than coconuts then you're a megalodon-sized wuss. This fact is constantly reconfirmed by mankind's most commonly used way to spread information in the modern era: memes.
Well, we all owe coconuts a huge apology because this "fact" is just completely made up. According to The Straight Dope's thorough investigation into the subject, the statistic can be tracked down to a 1984 study on coconut deadliness that only mentioned two coconut-related deaths reported in a specific Papua New Guinea hospital, and not even in the same year. According to Wikipedia's "Death by coconut" page, other people must have taken that statistic and said, "Well, if two deaths were reported in that one hospital that must mean like 150 worldwide, probably!" If there are any actual studies to back that up, the authors must have been murdered by coconuts before they could tell anyone because there's no record of them.
Apparently, the main culprit for spreading this myth was a press release from a British travel insurance firm trying to sell people coconut protection, which isn't exactly an objective source. This hasn't stopped the baseless coconut-phobia from having an impact on the real world every so often, like when Queensland, Australia uprooted some coconut trees near the beaches to prevent lawsuits from tourists or when India removed all coconuts on the trees around the Ghandi museum in Mumbai before Barack Obama's visit to prevent a serious international incident. Imagine a replay of JFK's visit to Dallas, but with coconuts.
In short: do look out for falling coconuts if the situation calls for it, obviously, but you probably shouldn't fear them more than sharks. After all, coconuts can't smell a drop of blood in the water from a mile away, and sharks can. Right?
No, Sharks Can't Smell A Drop Of Blood In The Water From A Mile Away
According to movies and pop-sci shark documentaries, you should never ever floss your teeth in the ocean. Sharks have such a good sense of smell that if a single drop of your blood touches the water, they'll smell it from a mile away and come bite your ass. This one has made it to sources with far more scientific credibility than the average Discovery Channel doc, like the Harley Quinn show, where a single drop of Robin's blood in a huge tank causes the otherwise affable King Shark to go psycho.
We hate to say it, but the Harley Quinn show is wrong on this one. Sharks do have wonderfully effective noses (like many other types of fish), but they're not magic. A group of scientists at the Florida Atlantic University demonstrated that by actually putting some sharks inside a tank with fancy equipment attached to their noses that measured the electrical impulses generated when exposed to smells. What they ultimately concluded is that a shark could smell a drop of your blood in "a volume of water about the size of a backyard swimming pool," but nothing bigger than that.
But say you are in chilling in kiddy pool and you cut your finger and suddenly notice, oh @#$%, there's a shark in there. It could definitely smell you -- but would it give a crap? Probably not. Sharks aren't particularly into human meat, so just because they know you're there doesn't mean they'll come running. The Mythbusters proved that by dropping a literal drop of fish blood into a literal shark tank and watching them turn around, then dropping several drops of human blood and watching them go "meh."
So it turns out sharks aren't even as dangerous to us as we thought. Curse you, Jaws and Steven Spielberg, for driving these gentle creatures to near extinction! Actually, about that ...
No, Jaws Didn't Drive Sharks Close To Extinction
Okay, so this is another myth we've previously fallen for, but getting exactly two things wrong in 64 years isn't that bad (please nobody verify that number). Conservationists have been talking about "the Jaws effect" for decades: Jaws made people so afraid of sharks that we drove one third of them close to extinction. Hell, even the guy who wrote the book ended up regretting it and spent the rest of his life reminding people that he had no idea about sharks when he wrote the thing.
But even if Jaws made us more afraid of sharks than we would be in a universe where Steven Spielberg's breakthrough film was about, say, killer coconuts, that doesn't mean they are dying off because of it. Out of the approximately 100 million sharks killed by people every year, 73 million come from the shark fin trade, not from people going, "Gah, a shark! Kill it! Kill it!" And no, these fins aren't being collected to sell them to Jaws fans as souvenirs but to cook them in parts of Asia where the movie has nowhere near the legendary status it has in the west.
Much of the other 27 million deaths come as a byproduct of trying to catch other fish and from humans just sucking in general when it comes to protecting the environment. Yes, the movie did cause a panic for a while that resulted in sharks being overfished, but that had a relatively small effect compared to other factors. On the other hand, it also caused a whole generation of nerds to become obsessed with sharks and produce a huge number of research into them that dwarfs the knowledge that existed before. This, in turn, has led to more effective preservation efforts; it turns out it's much harder to save a species if, like pre-1974 Peter Benchley, you don't know squat about it.
Now, we're not saying every single shark preservationist working today was motivated exclusively by a movie about three dudes hunting the underwater equivalent of Jason Voorhees. Of course not. Some were also motivated by this:
Top image: Warner Bros. Pictures, Universal Pictures