Shark Week ‘Expedition Unknown – Megalodon’ Cabo, Mexico, 15-19th April 2019
Silent Hunter Crew: Dr. Tristan Guttridge Discovery Channel Presenter: Josh Gates Ping Pong Production: Too many crew members to list; gratitude to all that assisted with this episode
Backstory: Silent hunter group chief scientist, Dr. Tristan Guttridge assisted with the development and storyline for this exciting Shark Week special, featured alongside multi-talented host Josh Gates. Earlier this year, paleontologist Dr. Robert Boessenecker and colleagues published a paper that changed the date of extinction for megalodon a.k.a ‘MEG’ by approximately 1 million years from 2.6 to 3.6 ma. The researchers speculated that competition with the newly evolved modern great white shark was a more likely reason for the great MEG’s extinction!
This exciting new theory formed the backbone of this show that started out on a scuba dive in Cabo Pulmo, Mexico searching for MEG teeth, but found modern bull sharks instead. The show then highlighted the speed and fish hunting expertise of the mako shark, and concluded in South Africa where ‘robo-seal’ was deployed to showcase the predatory prowess of the great white shark!
Our objective: For this three-day film shoot we showcased the predatory abilities of the mako shark, and explored and considered theories of what, or who, pushed the megalodon to extinction.
Tristan’s part in the show saw him journey to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico where he joined up with shortfin mako shark expert Jacopo Brunetti from Cabo Shark Dive. This segment of the show investigated whether the mako could have helped drive the MEG to extinction.
As with most Shark Week shows, Tristan arrived a few days early to explore the site, and environment, this time with Jacopo and underwater cameraman (Fouad Zayed) to get a feel for the location, boat and sharks. The first day was incredible, almost flat calm sunny conditions, with a strong current to carry the scent of the chum slick out into the pelagic waters of the Sea of Cortez. Amazingly within 45 minutes a juvenile mako shark arrived, full of energy, zipping around the baits and flashers, which are used as a visual aid to further stimulate the sharks. This mini-mako was shortly followed by a slightly larger one (~2.5m length) and a couple of languid, rather untrustworthy looking blue sharks.
Tristan and Fo hopped in to see the sharks, test their gear and gain some B-roll footage. The blue sharks were exciting to dive with, they were extremely inquisitive using their large pinnochio-esque noses to push into objects and people, whilst their huge pectoral fins made it seem like they wanted to bear hug you! The makos behaved polar-opposite, highly directed, almost rigid in their movements, with minimal effort to swim from one side of the boat to the other. It’s no wonder they’re challenging and intimidating to dive with, it’s almost impossible to track their movements. They can swim incredibly fast and their ragged, dagger-shaped teeth give them quite the menacing appearance!
Towards the end of the day Tristan and Fo tested a trollcam to see if they could capture some footage of the mako approaching the bait at speed - - the answer was a resounding YES!
The next two days were spent with Josh and the film team, including two topside camera operators, assistant camera/drone operator, a sound technician, a director, two underwater operators, and a producer – quite the crew! The first couple of hours saw the team shooting arrival and meeting shots, which are important to set the scene and usually involve a combination of top side and aerial takes.
It was another sunny day and by 11am the waters were baited ready for mako shark scenes, however this time the sharks were nowhere to be seen…one hour, two hours, three hours, five hours still no sharks…
With the heat of the day setting in, and a lot of waiting, Josh chose to take a break and enjoy a power nap… and of course, just like clock-work the word ‘SHARK’ was yelled; the distinctive flopping tail of a blue shark waved as it struck the bait line. However, despite the sharks finally arriving it was too late in the day for any filming and the visibility was less than 2 ft. Josh reluctantly made the call to head back to shore with the hopes of getting more action tomorrow. Unexpectedly, on our way home, as the engine slowed to enter the harbor, a friendly sealion took to the boat’s transom beckoning the team for a fish scrap. It turns out ‘Pancho’ was a regular and enjoyed posing for photos and munching on some leftover shark bait. A welcome end to the day!
An early rise saw the team back on the water baiting for sharks by 8:30am however, by 10am nothing had turned up, so Jacopo decided to switch spots, moving to the same location as Day 1. It wasn’t long before that magical word ‘shark’ was boomed out by the crew, and this time it was two blue sharks moving in on the baits. This species, like the mako, are an open ocean traveler, however they are regularly seen in groups, and are the most abundant shark in the world. Clearly this species, despite its pack-type behavior would not have competed with MEG for food, with long-extended snouts that allow them to specialize on cephalopods (like squid).
Tristan and Josh snorkeled with the blue sharks enjoying their fearless nature, however within a few minutes of getting in the water Jacopo shouted ‘hammerhead’, it’s a great feeling when someone shouts the word shark when you’re in the water but ‘hammerhead’ really gets the blood pumping! It was a smooth hammerhead (Spyhrna zygaena), another ocean wanderer that has been documented to make migrations up to 6000 miles. The hammerhead, unlike the bold blue sharks would not make any close passes, however the team obtained some stunning shots of it swimming at the surface and chasing the troll-cam.
Finally, as so often happens with film shoots, the target shark species made an appearance just as time started to run out. So, snorkel gear was thrown on quickly along with wetsuits, as two makos darted after baits! Josh and Tristan were in their element observing these predators up close, and jumped back on the boat to discuss how the mako shark, despite being a high-performance predator, would probably not have competed with the megalodon. Their teeth, evolved more for pinning slippery fish vs. tearing chunks out of seals or whales meant they were not the reason the megalodon went extinct.
So, if not the mako, then what competed with the MEG…… Enter the WHITE SHARK…
Watch the show
The final episode aired July 2019, and can be previewed HERE. As soon as a full episode, watchable link is available we will share it with you.
Thank you to Discovery and the team from Ping Pong Production, it was a genuine pleasure to work and develop this episode with you all. Gratitude must also go to all for their generosity in allowing us to use their images in this blog.