Hurricane Ian’s 150mph rampage battered the US state of Florida after it made landfall on September 28, leaving 2.4 million homes and businesses without power and floodwaters surging inland. US President Joe Biden says it could be the deadliest storm in Florida’s history as at least 10 deaths have been confirmed, while a substantial toll is feared.
Amid the destruction that saw seawater inundating entire neighbourhoods, several social media users are tweeting a photograph of what appears to be a shark swimming in a flooded street in Florida.
A reverse image search led us to multiple tweets, dating to as far back as 2011, which have shared this photo. Newschecker learnt that this photo has cropped up multiple times, especially during hurricanes or heavy-rain events in the US, right from the time it was supposedly seen in a Puerto Rico street during Hurricane Irene in August 2011 to an alleged New Jersey sighting during Superstorm Sandy in October 2012. It also made an appearance during August 2017’s Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas.
In each instance, the photo had been debunked as a fake image by several news outlets in the west. In 2011, when it first appeared as “sighting” of a shark in a flooded Puerto Rican road, the Toronto Star wrote, “The image was debunked when some noticed the shark seemed a little too familiar. It first appeared in an iconic photo snapped by Thomas P Peschak in South Africa in 2003. That shot depicted a lone kayaker in beautiful blue water with the bull shark stalking just a few feet behind. It appeared in Africa Geographic, among other publications. Someone decided to photoshop the shark onto a Puerto Rican street and see if people would fall for it.”
During the Houston sighting, Politifact debunked the photo again, stating that it was the same one seen during the Puerto Rico and New York adverse-weather events “The photoshopped image appeared to have taken the shark from a photo that ran in Africa Geographic in 2005,” the report read.
Taking a cue from the above reports, we ran a keyword search for “Thomas P Peschak shark kayak”, “Africa Geographic shark viral”, which led us to this photo, via the Africa Geographic and National Geographic.
According to the National Geographic, the magazine’s photographer Thomas Peschak had captured the great white shark on camera in 2003, following scientist Trey Snow in a bright yellow kayak off the coast of South Africa. “Ever since then, people have been photoshopping the shark into their pictures to fake scary scenes,” the article read.
The photographer, too, wrote about his experience with the photo and the resulting hoax attempts on his website. Peschak stated that he was working with the White Shark Trust for more than 10 months to capture novel images of white sharks that would illustrate current research.
“On August 21, 2011, Hurricane Irene battered the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico and flooded many streets. I could never have imagined that my photograph would make an appearance in this context, except this time it was only the shark, minus the kayak. On August 24, the shark appeared on a social news website in the form of a photograph taken from the open window of a car driving along a flooded street. Next to the car was ‘my’ white shark swimming through the flooded streets of Puerto Rico. The image was then picked up and used in a TV bulletin on Channel 7 News Miami. A closer examination of the shark revealed that it was identical to the shark following the kayak in my photograph. It appears that a crafty Photoshop artist superimposed the shark into a scene of a flooded street,” Peschak wrote. The photographer also mentioned that the viral photo had appeared in the wake of Hurricane Sandy too.
We also learnt that the shark had been part of another hoax, in June 2012, when several Twitter users circulated a photo of two sharks, claiming that a tank had collapsed in a mall in Kuwait. “The composite resurfaced again in June of 2012, when a shark tank supposedly burst in a popular mall in Kuwait. The photo depicted two sharks (one of which was mine) swimming at the bottom of a submerged escalator,” Peschak wrote in his blog.
While comparing the viral images to the original photo, we can see it is the same shark that had been photoshopped onto a flooded street and mall.
Viral photo of shark swimming in flooded Florida street is an old, photoshopped picture that has been doing the rounds of social media since 2011.
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