By the numbers, the great white shark is one of the most fearsome predators to ever exist on planet Earth. Consider:
- The largest great white ever recorded spanned 20 feet – half the size of a school bus — and weighed at least 5,000 pounds.
- At any given moment, great whites possess 300 teeth — measuring up to 6.6 inches — and can regenerate and replace up to 20,000 in a lifetime.
- Swimming up to 35 miles per hour, a great white can launch itself out of the water like a missile.
But those stats are child's play to the great white's prehistoric predecessor, the megalodon (which literally means "big tooth"), which grew to 65 feet long. Known by scientists and fans as the "Meg," the massive monster will star in Houston Museum of Natural Science's new exhibit Sharks! The Meg, The Monsters & The Myths.
The immersive shark fest opens Friday, May 26 to members and Saturday, May 27 to the general public. Tickets are available online.
Dive into the shark tank
Meant to educate and inspire awe and curiosity rather than hysteria, the new exhibition features six galleries that include live shark tank, 14 life-sized models, interactive and touchable items, dazzling digital displays, fun photo ops, and meg-sized chunks of information about the ocean's apex predators.
Visitors can meet these fin-tastic friends via a 360-square-foot virtual “shark tank,” where sharks of all shapes and sizes (there are eight different orders and more than 500 species) swim by, showing off their sleek shapes, bioluminescence, and grace.
Meet the monster Meg
A giant, life-sized, 50-foot model of a female megalodon — in full swim pose and jaws that easily down an entire refrigerator or a few humans — wide open in a toothy grin. The megalodon's sheer mass compared to humans, its color (gray to reflect the sea wall with a "great white" belly) will be on display for photos and wow moments.
Another gallery takes viewers back more than 400 million years to the earliest sharks and fossilized shark teeth. Each visitor can select a fossilized tooth dating back to the Miocene era to keep as part of the journey.
Some gentle bamboo and epaulette sharks will join stingrays (cousins of sharks), sea urchins, and a host of other sea dwellers in an easily viewable tank, which will offer an up-close-and-personal perspective as to why these creatures are so essential to the ecosystem.
No excursion would be complete without swag, and this one offers up toys, puzzles, t-shirts, magnets, and more at the Island Store, which also houses megalodon teeth, fossilized coral, and a 100,000-year-old giant fossil clamshell.
Fans of these finned friends
While they have survived every mass extinction event in the past 450 million years and have ruled their water kingdom for some 300,000 years, sharks are now in peril by the worst predator of all: humans. Spurred by bloodlust after the release of the 1975 epic film and novel Jaws and other sensational pop culture vehicles, an average of 100 million sharks are killed by humans each year.
Whether for sport, shark fin soup (where fins are cut off while the shark is cast back still alive and left to drown), scientists worry that this decimation could mean the end for many of these astounding creatures. '
“Sharks are remarkably diverse and efficient predators but are more threatened than threatening. In fact, over one-third of shark species are now facing the threat of extinction,” said Nicole Temple, the exhibit curator. “With this exhibition, we hope that our guests are able to explore the misconceptions, mysteries, and mystique of sharks to help pave the way for conservation efforts, as well as explore their unique adaptations and behaviors that continue to inspire scientific innovation around the world.”
“Sharks are critical to maintaining the health of our oceans, which are a huge carbon sink for the planet,” Temple adds. “Really, sharks help keep us alive.”
Consider this a chance to visit to a monstrous meg, snap a selfie, and say thanks.
Sharks! The Meg, The Monsters & The Myths opens Friday, May 26 (members) and Saturday, May 27 (general public) at Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Hermann Park Dr. For tickets and more information, visit HMNS online.