From the mouth of a Megalodon

Millions of viewers tuned in last week to Discovery Channel’s “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives” and learned of supposedly new evidence suggesting the long-extinct predator, measuring around 50 feet long and weighing up to 70 tons, could somehow still be lurking in the ocean’s deepest, darkest depths.

And while the so-called dramatized documentary has been widely mocked for using actors posing as scientists and failing to provide concrete evidence to support its claims, a handful of area scuba divers said they spent the real “Shark Week” in the prehistoric behemoth’s company.

Or at least, what’s left of it.

“When I saw my first tooth, when I picked up my first tooth, 4 inches, on my own … I mean, yeah, I had trouble breathing down there,” diver Tom Manion said. “My heart was skipping a beat because I just found something that’d been laying at the bottom of the ocean for eight, to 10, to 20 million years. And now I have it.”

Manion is one of more than 80 members of the local Laurel Divers club, a social organization that allows divers to explore their interests in groups and discover new types of diving.

Although he’s a World War II history buff who enjoys exploring submarine and other vessel wreckage, Manion said he and fellow divers Ashley Sorge and Dan Turcovsky couldn’t help themselves when offered the chance to hunt for fossils that once could be found – by whatever was unlucky enough to encounter it – in Megalodon’s mouth.

Manion said it didn’t even occur to them that the week spent mostly underwater was taking place at the same time as Discovery Channel’s long-running TV series, which kicked off its 26th year around the same time Manion, Sorge and Turcovsky dove off North Carolina’s coast in search of prehistoric treasures.

While none would disclose their exact location, Sorge said the group learned of the site from a friend and fellow diver who offered to show them the spot, which is several dozen miles out in the ocean and more than 90 feet down to the ocean floor.

Like most sharks, a Megalodon’s body was comprised mostly of cartilage, so little remained after the creature died and decomposed.

The most divers can hope to find is its teeth and maybe a few vertebrae.

But luckily, Megalodon’s reach was global.

Sorge said as the ultimate apex predator, without predators of its own, Megalodon lived in all corners of the world, and its teeth can be found in many places.

That’s not to say that finding the fossils was easy, he said, but there are signs – big signs – that pointed the divers in the right direction.

“Where we find these shark teeth is a big, giant cemetery for whales,” he said, “because it was a feeding ground. It’s where they came in, and they ate all these whales. So when you start to find whale bones … then you’re going to start finding shark teeth.”

Some studies estimate that Megalodon’s bite carried between 24,000 and 40,000 pounds of force, compared to the 4,000 pounds Great White sharks today can produce.

Researchers reported to National Geographic that Megalodon’s bite could crush a car and was even more powerful than that of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Not much is known about Megalodon other than a rough estimate of its size, diet and when it lived.

But because the species is believed to have gone extinct roughly two million years ago, Manion said he knows anything he picked up on the ocean floor had laid undisturbed for at least that long, never having been touched before by human hands.

Holding two 6-inch specimens, one in each hand, Sorge turns the purported fossils so their points face each other, showing just how large a Megalodon’s mouth was.

He said because most sharks have six rows of teeth, an average Megalodon probably had over 270 teeth in its mouth at any given time.

“You wouldn’t even be a meal,” he said, holding the serrated samples on either side of a reporter’s hand. “It wouldn’t be interested in you.”

Manion said it’s hard to describe how surreal it was to hold something like a Megalodon fossil in his hands.

As one of the fiercest predators ever discovered, Megalodon cannot be compared to any other predator alive today, he said.

“To me, this would be the equivalent of digging in my back yard and finding a mastodon tooth, or tusk.”

Turcovsky said last week’s trip brought in over 2,000 teeth, including 20 6-inch Megalodon tooth fossils. Finding that number of large teeth, given that the largest tooth every found hovers at a little over 7 inches, “is very, very, very rare,” he said.

Sorge said Laurel Divers is a social club, with all members participating as a hobby, and most would never consider selling their fossil finds.

However, they’ve done their research, and they know how rare the artifacts are.

Even partial or split Megalodon fossils can fetch between $600 and $700 apiece, depending on size, he said.

But most divers are in it for the experience of being underwater and finding things few others have seen, Manion said.

“When I was first diving down in the Keys … I was just floating along. It was quiet as could be, and I’m seeing more colors than I’ve ever seen on my TV. I’m seeing all these different types of fish swim by. And it was so calm and peaceful, no sounds at all. I didn’t even hear my air bubbles because I was like mesmerized by this, and I remember saying to myself, ‘There’s got to be a God. Because this doesn’t happen on its own.'”

Anyone interested in experiencing the same thing – and maybe stumbling across a Megalodon – can find more information on the club’s website,