A 60-foot monster shark just swam into Mission Canyon, and rather than run away, thousands of Santa Barbara kids, their parents, and others interested in the nature of yesteryear will soon be flocking toward the prehistoric beast. At least that’s usually what happens with the nationally touring Megalodon: Largest Shark that Ever Lived exhibit, which lands at the Museum of Natural History this weekend and stays until August 30.
“They’re akin to the level of interest and enthusiasm that’s generated from dinosaurs but in the marine realm,” said Bruce MacFadden of the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, where the exhibit first debuted almost a decade ago. “Kids love it.”
But all ages can appreciate the many megalodon mysteries that remain. Most everything we know about the “cosmopolitan apex predator,” which lived in worldwide waters 17 million to two million years ago, comes from its teeth, of which it had about 275 at any given time. “They shed teeth like a conveyor belt does,” said MacFadden. “Their fossil teeth are all over the world, but 99 percent of what we find of them is teeth.” And because they were made of cartilage rather than hard bone, MacFadden explained, “We don’t know the rest of the skeletal morphology like we know dinosaurs.”
That hasn’t stopped researchers from determining that monster sharks hunted large whales, that they raised their young in shallow nurseries, and even what they looked like. “We extrapolate based on modern analogs,” said MacFaddden. “One is the great white, and the other is the mako, or it could be some combination in between. We really don’t know.”
The exhibit is just one of the shark-focused offerings this summer from the museum and its Sea Center on Stearns Wharf, where there will be a World Oceans Day program called Healthy Sharks, Healthy Oceans on June 6 and a Land Shark tour on June 19 as well as weekly storytellings and shark feedings each Sunday.