Megalodon: Largest Shark That Ever Lived

September 1st, 2007 | EVALUATION

"Megalodon: Largest Shark That Ever Lived", a 5000-square-foot exhibition, started with a gift of shark fossil specimens and models, inspiring curators and administrators to create an exhibition to educate the public about extinct and modern sharks. This summative evaluation was undertaken to investigate whether exhibition visitors come away with an understanding of the exhibition's main premise: Megalodon, a dominant marine predator for 15 million years before vanishing 2 million years ago, provides lessons for shark conservation today. The learning goals also included a number of subthemes regarding megalodon morphology and evolution, as well as the extinct species' relationship to modern sharks. Two secondary themes were also addressed: Exhibition planners hoped visitors would come away believing that it is important to preserve and protect sharks, and hoped the exhibition experience would make people less afraid of sharks than before their visit. Visitors came away with multiple aspects of the main idea, such as large size, comparison of extinct and living sharks, prehistoric/extinct creatures, behavior/predation. Findings suggest that visitors have a far better understanding of and appreciation for ecology than evolution: visitors are much more likely to come away from Megalodon saying that sharks should be protected because they have an important role in the ecosystem than because of their role in evolution and scientific knowledge. The top-rated part of the exhibition was the row of increasingly gigantic megalodon jaws, the largest big enough for an adult to stand in. Although visitors expressed positive feelings about the exhibition, Megalodon did not succeed in making visitors feel less afraid of sharks. Only one person said he was less afraid of sharks than before (M 18-24) and 8 respondents said they were more afraid of sharks than they were before. The vast majority of visitors (86%) said they could think of at least one reason sharks should be protected and a few people provided more than one reason. By far the most frequent reason visitors gave for protecting sharks is their role in the ecosystem. We asked visitors what questions they would ask the scientists who worked on the exhibition. There were a total of 54 substantive questions, most of them relating to science and research. This finding indicates that the exhibition inspired real interest in scientific research, particularly as it relates to fossils. The appendix of this report includes the interview instrument used in the study.



Team Members

Ellen Giusti, Evaluator
Florida Museum of Natural History, Contributor


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: AISL
Award Number: 0638810
Funding Amount: 75000

Related URLs

Sharks: Predators through Time -- An exhibit that highlights active NSF-funded research


Audience: Evaluators | Families | General Public | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Ecology | forestry | agriculture | Education and learning science | Life science
Resource Type: Evaluation Reports | Interview Protocol | Research and Evaluation Instruments | Summative
Environment Type: Exhibitions | Museum and Science Center Exhibits