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Megalodon Makes Jaws Look Like A Guppy

By Jason Frye, posted Jul 22, 2011
Silas Frye, 7, of W. Va., is a small morsel in this replica of the jaws of the ancient Megalodon shark at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher.

In “Jaws,” Quint, the grizzled captain of the ill-fated Orca, tells Hooper and Brody, “This shark, swallow you whole.” The 25-foot namesake shark from the 1975 film was huge, but has nothing on the Megalodon, which could, quite literally, swallow you, and one of your friends, whole.

But it’s safe to go in the water. The Megalodon has been extinct for two million years, but you can catch a glimpse of it at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher’s new interactive exhibit, Megalodon: Diving with North Carolina’s Ultimate Predator.

Ultimate predator is right. The Megalodon was huge: 50-60 feet long (that’s 10 feet longer than a school bus), with teeth the size of your hand, a jaw 8 feet across (four times that of the shark from “Jaws”). According to Alex Moore, assistant public relations coordinator with the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher, the exhibit has been a big hit since it premiered July 1.

“On our opening weekend, which was the July 4 holiday, we saw over 8,500 visitors,” he said. “The comments we heard then and that we continue to hear tell us it’s a success; our visitors are very excited with it.”

The exhibit is truly a showpiece. Situated in the main hall near the 235,000-gallon Cape Fear Shoals exhibit, Megalodon features a 23-foot long screen with six interactive videos giving the history of the Megalodon, a holographic shark species quiz, a touch-screen display with facts about sharks and a life-size, 50-foot Megalodon silhouette inlaid in the carpet.

And then there’s the centerpiece – a complete Megalodon jaw replica. Bristling with 184 teeth, the replica draws aquarium visitors right up to the edge of its case. Parents stand back and photograph kids as they stand behind the jaw, effectively in the Megalodon’s mouth, and make mock expressions of horror or laugh or stare in awe.

The replica was created from a mold cast from a rare find – a   complete jaw with four rows of teeth. Found in a rock quarry in Aurora, N.C., it is one of the few full sets found. Many replicas are cast from incomplete sets with only two rows of original teeth resized and repositioned to make four rows, so Aquarium visitors have the chance to see what the teeth actually looked like.
The teeth themselves are the size of a person’s hand, and two replicas stand on the floor for visitors to touch. Attached to the signage detailing the history of the replica jaw, visitors of all ages marvel at its size. But the other one holds visitors rapt for longer.

At the 23-foot curved projection screen, five pedestals with replicas of fossilized Megalodon teeth (healthy and malformed), a fossilized backbone and whalebone and a fossil seashell serve as buttons, playing different videos each time   one is pressed.

At the touch of the “button” a life-sized diver appears on the wall and talks about the Megalodon while a huge animated shark and other animations fill the rest of the screen. The diver, Jack Hall, department chair and professor of Environmental Studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, is a regular volunteer at the aquarium and Moore described his participation as “enthusiastic.”

“Dr. Hall and our film crew did a great job,” said Moore. “They built an underwater green screen, I believe the first of its kind, to get it to look right.”

They got it right. Hall’s motions have an underwater heaviness to them and the bubbles from his regulator float up the screen to disappear above us. His narrations are actual recordings of him reading the script underwater, complete with the odd pauses and mechanical sounds as he takes breaths in his specialized mask.

Filming Hall was only part of the technical aspect of constructing the exhibit, which was two years in the making from inspiration to completion.

In 2009, aquarium divers discovered several large Megalodon teeth during a routine trip diving just offshore in 110 feet of water. The find gave them the idea to introduce an exhibit about the Megalodon. Research revealed only a handful of such exhibits and they began moving forward with the process.

“Our Megalodon Team had six full-time members,” said Moore, “and an army of volunteers. We don’t have a total calculation of the cost because of the way our budget season works, but we know that more than $100,000 was spent on labor alone to build the exhibit.”

The Megalodon Team found a design and engineering firm that creates immersive visualization displays and recruited them to design and install the 23-foot long video screen and a nearby hologram projection system. The Elumenati, based in Asheville, supplied the touch screens, interactive hardware and software needed to bring the exhibit to life.

Locally, the Megalodon Team had help from Cape Fear Sails & Rigging, Gore Marine, Inc., Gulfstream Steel and Supply, The Sign Company of Wilmington and Carolina Commercial Carpet. Carolina Commercial Carpet’s major addition to the project – the life-size Megalodon carpet inlay – gives   visitors the chance to compare the giant shark to a model of it’s favorite food – a whale hanging from a nearby wall.

“The project was completed exclusively using money from the state and we’re glad they supported this project,” Moore said.
“Without the help of our Megalodon Team and the fantastic vendors they used it never would have been possible.”

With the addition of the exhibit, the 400,000-plus annual Aquarium   visitors now have a glimpse into ancient aquatic life off North Carolina’s coast and a great souvenir photo to show their friends.

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