Do you like to go swimming in the ocean? If you’ve ever seen a scary movie like Jaws, you may be a little bit nervous about what sea creatures might be lurking below the surface. Could a huge, man-eating shark be waiting out there just beyond the breaking waves?

The good news is that the answer is…probably not! Sure, you hear about shark attacks from time to time, but they’re actually a really rare event. At most beaches around the world, the probability of fun hovers around 100%, and the chance of a shark attack hovers just above 0%.

Sharks have fascinated kids and adults alike for many years. These fearsome ocean predators move through the water with amazing speed. Their razor-sharp teeth can strike fear into the hearts of anyone who sees them up close.

If you’ve seen enough movies or television shows about sharks, you might be under the impression that all sharks are humongous. That’s not really true. There are many different types of sharks and some of them aren’t very big at all.

But, of course, there are some giant sharks, too. And that’s what today’s Wonder of the Day is all about. So exactly how big is the largest shark?

The answer depends upon whether you’re talking about the largest shark alive today or the largest shark to have ever lived on Earth. Those are two different sharks of different sizes.

The largest shark to have ever lived on Earth is thought by scientists to have been the megalodon. Its name comes from the Greek words meaning “big tooth.” The megalodon is an extinct species of shark that roamed the waters of Earth over 1.5 million years ago.

Not only was it the largest shark to have ever lived on Earth, scientists believe it’s probably one of the biggest, most powerful predators of all time. Megalodon fossils have been found that lead scientists to believe the giant shark could have reached a total length of over 50 feet with a body mass of over 50 tons!

Today, the largest shark roaming the oceans is the huge whale shark. Unlike the megalodon, whale sharks are not predators. Instead, they’re slow-swimming giants that eat mainly plants and plankton.

Although not the size of the megalodon, whale sharks are still really big. They can grow to be over 40 feet long and weigh over 15 tons, which makes them the largest fish in the world. They are gentle creatures that will often allow swimmers to catch a ride with them as they swim along coral reefs.

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  1. That is really interesting! I like today’s wonder. I have never heard of the Megalodon, but that sounded really big and powerful. I have seen pictures of whale sharks, and they are huge. Thank you for today’s wonder! it was great. :) Are you trying to get up to a thousand wonders? ;) :0

    • Thanks so much, Berkleigh! We are glad that you learned something new about sharks, and even added Megalodon to your vocabulary! :)

      White sharks are fascinating– we were surprised to learn that they eat plants and plankton! Hooray for WONDERing! We can’t wait to reach 1,000 Wonders– we hope to see you soon! :)

    • What a SUPER Wonder, Tyler! We are glad you shared your comment with us– those prehistoric creatures are very cool to learn about! :)

  2. I loved today’s wonder of the day. The video was awesome too. I think my favorite shark is the whale shark like they showed on the video. But, I still think I am going to stay away from sharks! :)

    • Hi there, Emily! We’re so glad you enjoyed our shark Wonder! We hope you keep WONDERing… but we agree with you: keep your distance from sharks! :)

    • Danielle, we are so glad you’ve been WONDERing with us all day! HOORAY for great Wonder Friends like you! Thanks for sharing your comment and WONDERing about those large, incredible sharks! :)

    • WOW, thanks for filling us in, Braxton! We’re happy that you’ve been WONDERing on your own about the great white sharks of the past! We think it would be incredible to see that shark in person! YOWZA! :)

  3. Hello wonderopolis I think today’s wonder was spectacular. My mom is always terrified of sharks and won’t go in the ocean because of sharks; she says it’s because of the movie Jaws so when I showed her your video she totally freaked out. I said that they’re actually harmless, but when I showed her a megladon she just walked out of the room. This wonder made my top ten favorite wonders.

    • Thanks for letting us know how much you enjoyed our shark Wonder, Colin! We bet it’s a lot of fun to share this Wonder with others, but we all have fears of our own (just like your mom). Thanks for telling us where this Wonder ranks in your top ten list– HOORAY! :)

    • HOORAY, we’re so glad our Wonder Friends from Room 16 are WONDERing with us today! Thanks for sharing your comment! We Wonder what your favorite new fact about the whale shark is? :)

    • Hi there, Wonder Friend. We appreciate all comments on Wonderopolis, but we are a safe place filled with learning, Wonder and positive words. We hope you’ll comment again on our Wonder with what you’ve learned or enjoyed! Thanks for sharing your comment- we value your opinion! :)

  4. Isn’t it cool how megalodons are 50 feet long and can weigh over 50 tons? I could imagine how scary it would be to see a megalodon up close one million years ago. I don’t understand why people are afraid of sharks when there is a greater chance of a coconut falling on your head.

    Resurrection School Brantford

    • We’re so happy that you enjoyed our shark Wonder today, Resurrection School! The magalodon is one LARGE shark! :-)

      Thanks for WONDERing with us today, and keep up the great work! :-)

  5. I learned a lot about the two different sharks, the Megalodon shark and the Whale shark. The Megalodon used to be the largest shark in the whole world til it became extinct.

    • That’s SUPER news, Shyaunna! What a great way to Wonder together– we’re glad you all enjoyed it! Thanks for sharing your comment! :)

    • Hi there, Michael, thanks for WONDERing about sharks with us today! Sharks don’t really like humans, and they don’t care to deal with humans, unless they feel threatened or provoked. Thanks for sharing your comment, Wonder Friend! :)

  6. That was so cool. But I thought that it was kind of weird. My sister is deadly afraid of sharks so she wouldn’t read it or watch the video. I love sharks though so I thought it was cool.

    • Hey there, Cassidy! Thanks for WONDERing with us about sharks! It’s okay if your sister isn’t too fond of sharks– we all have things that frighten us! However, we’re very glad you liked the Wonder video and you learned a new thing or two! COOL! :)

  7. I cannot belive even if the great white shark is the 2nd biggest shark it is not that aggressive as the bull shark. I wonder why is that. Where do bull shark breed?

    • Hi there, Joseph! We’re so happy you’ve been doing even MORE research about sharks! Way to go! Keep WONDERing on your own, Joseph! :)

  8. First of all I love sharks!! So when I saw the wonder what is the largest shark I knew the answer!!

    But I didn’t know that the whale shark weighs over 50 tons!! Also I didn’t know that the whale shark can grow about 50 feet!!

    This wonder was awesome!! :) :)

    • Hi there, Cate, we’re thrilled to know that this Wonder made you smile! Sharks are very interesting subjects to Wonder about… especially because they can grow to be so large! Thanks for sharing what you have learned today– we sure hope to Wonder with you again! :)

    • Great question, Rebecca! We’ll have to keep WONDERing about new breeds of sharks… perhaps there will be an even larger shark in the future! Thanks for visiting us today! :)

  9. Hi Wonderopolis I always thought the great white shark was the biggest but it is that is. Did you guys see any other vicious sharks?

    • Hey there, Gregory! We’re so glad you learned something new with us today! HOORAY! We didn’t see any other sharks, Gregory, but we were in their territory! :)

    • Hey there, Phillip! Thanks for sharing your comment about sharks today! We LOVED WONDERing about the megalodon, or “big tooth” as we call it here at Wonderopolis. Even though the megalodon is no longer around, we are glad fossils exist to help us learn about that giant shark! :)

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend! Thanks for sharing your comment about sharks– keep up the WONDERing! We’d love to hear what you find about sharks and their teeth! We Wonder if there is a shark tooth fairy? :)

  10. The largest shark in the world is the whale shark it lives in the Atlantic ocean and the Pacific ocean. The whale shark only eats frail it doesn’t eat meat like other sharks. Frail is little tiny fish that live in the sea.

    • Way to go, Daniel, you did a spectacular job of sharing what you know about sharks! Thanks for describing their habitat, eating habits and size! Way to go, Wonder Friend! :)

    • Way to go, Wonder Friend Chayce! You did a fantastic job summarizing all that you have learned about sharks! NICE WORK! :)

  11. I used to think that sharks would try to devour me but now I know that as long as you don’t mess with them they won’t hurt you.

    • Sharks, as well as other mammals and animals, usually don’t want to hurt humans. However, if they feel threatened, they may attack in order to protect themselves. Like you mentioned, we should leave sharks alone! :)

    • We’re so happy to hear that you learned something new about sharks today, Mayce! We are glad to hear that you’ll be enjoying the ocean from now on! Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

    • Sweet, Ryan! We are so glad you learned all about different types of sharks! We wish we could see the megalodon in person, but we bet if we visit an aquarium or field museum, we can learn even more about the sharks’ ancestors! :)

    • The whale shark is the largest shark and fish that exists in our world today, Sam! And, boy, are they large! The whale shark is not a whale, but it has features that resemble a whale. :)

  12. I loved this wonder! I have to say sharks are my favorite animal. I did know about Megladons because I have studied them but I don’t know why they are extinct so maybe you can answer my question to that?

    • Annie 402, we are so glad you have been visiting multiple Wonders with us! HOORAY! Scientists are still trying to uncover what happened to the megalodon, as many changes to Earth happened while they were living. Keep up the WONDERing, Annie! :)

  13. I thought Megladon was 30 feet long because I saw a movie on animal planet where scientists found Megladon on an island near an island. It also attacked a boat! This wonder was awesome!!!!!

  14. I love sharks and I think this is very interesting! Another interesting species of shark is the Goblin Shark!

    • Wow, Gabe! The Goblin Shark sounds cool! We’ll have to check that one out! Thanks for sharing, Wonder Friend! :-)

    • That makes us sad that you can’t see such an amazing video about sharks. Everything is working here in Wonderopolis. You may want to check back later.

    • Thank you for letting us know that you thought this Wonder about the largest shark was COOL, Nicholas! :) If you didn’t learn about different kinds of sharks like you were expecting, we encourage you to do some WONDERing on your own! You may also want to check out this Wonder of the Day #398: How Many Sharks Are In the Ocean? :)

    • Welcome back, Nicolas! We think it would be pretty AWESOME to swim with sharks, too! Would you like to work with sharks when you grow up? :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is the largest shark?
  • How big was the largest shark to have ever lived?
  • Are whale sharks dangerous?

Wonder Gallery

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-megalodon-shark-white-extinct-megatoothed-existed-prehistic-times-oligocene-to-pleistocene-image33069543http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-whale-shark-underwater-image17561089http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-whale-shark-divers-maldives-image17700986http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-megalodon-shark-tooth-image18958159Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Yikes! Did you find today’s Wonder of the Day to be a bit scary? Don’t worry. The following activities won’t bite. Be sure to check them out with a friend or family member.

  • Do you like sharks? If so, be sure to check out National Geographic’s Photo Gallery: Sharks online. What shark would you least like to meet if you were swimming in the ocean? What fascinates you the most about sharks?
  • Did you know that sharks constantly lose and regrow their teeth? Many people have made a hobby out of searching for and collecting shark teeth. Read Why Do People Collect Shark Teeth? on the Animal Planet website to learn more about shark teeth and this interesting hobby!
  • Ever WONDER what life is like for a whale shark? Jump online to watch National Geographic’s Whale Shark video. Scientists attached National Geographic’s Crittercam to whale sharks near Australia’s Ningaloo Reef. In this area, tourists can swim with whale sharks. Scientists wanted to see how the whale sharks behaved around tourists. Watch the video to see what they learned!

Still Wondering

In National Geographic Xpeditions’ Sharks: Should They Be Afraid of Us? lesson, children learn some interesting facts about different kinds of sharks.

Test Your Knowledge

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