A video shared to the social media platform TikTok on May 25, 2021, showed what appeared to be an extremely large shark — perhaps the now-extinct supergiant megalodon — circling a ship.
Originally uploaded by musician Alex Albrecht, the video was said to have been captured while sailing in the Atlantic Ocean. At the time of this writing, the video had been liked more than 4.8 million times.
Sailed six weeks in the atlantic saw this big fucking shark
The magnitude of the shark’s size was made visible by its comparison to the people standing along the deck of the ship, prompting some users to suggest the seemingly impossible: that the animal in question was a now-extinct marine giant that once swam the ancient seas, a megalodon.
Nicknamed “The Meg” by a 2018 science-fiction flick of the same name, the megalodon clocks in as the world’s largest shark. Megalodon fossils date back to 20 million years ago, and not only was the megalodon (scientific name Otodus megalodon) the largest shark on Earth, but the Natural History Museum reported that it was also one of the largest fish to ever exist — measuring up to 36 feet in length and three times longer than the white shark. It is important to note that estimates of megalodon size are not definitive, as a complete fossil specimen has never been found.
The megalodon went extinct around 3.8 million years ago. As such, other TikTok users suggested that the shark in the video may have been a basking shark, the second largest fish in the world, second only to the whale shark, according to the oceanic conservation group Oceana. Snopes spoke with John McCosker, the chairman of aquatic biology at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, who said that the animal in the TikTok was indeed a “big shark,” but was likely not a basking shark.
“It is probably a white shark (to call it a great white shark is just hyperbolic), which exists in those waters. I suspect that it is as large as 18 feet, but there is no way to calculate accurately from that photo,” said McCosker.
A look through the scientific literature confirmed what McCosker said. The white shark, scientific name Carcharodon carcharias, can weigh up to 6,600 pounds and grow to a maximum size of around 20 feet in length, noted Oceana. (However, the Smithsonian Institute reports that average female measures around 16 feet long, while males typically reach about 13 feet.)
“Great white sharks are opportunistic predators, feeding from the ocean’s surface to the seafloor. As great white sharks grow in size, so does the range of their prey,” said Oceana. “Smaller great whites prey on fish, rays, and crustaceans and when they are larger also eat seals, sea lions, dolphins, seabirds, marine turtles, rays, and other sharks.”
What remains unclear is why the shark was circling the ship in the first place. Snopes contacted the original poster of the video, Albrecht, to receive more information about where the video was taken but did not receive a response in time for publication. We will update the article accordingly if we hear back.