Hurricane Matthew is currently battering the Florida coastline, bringing with it a flood of images on social media that falsely show what appear to be sharks swimming in the streets and backyards of the sunshine state.
The images in question surface during almost every hurricane season, as Buzzfeed points out, after first being spread online several years ago. One of the photos, which appears to depict a great white shark swimming alongside an SUV as it drives down a flooded street (taken from the driver’s point of view), is actually a composite involving a widely shared image published in 2005.
The shark swimming in flood waters is the most silly hoax I’ve seen regarding natural disasters. Never fails to trick people. pic.twitter.com/NaVXnUSEWy
— Amber Alexandria (@anbaadesu) October 7, 2016
First appearing in Africa Geographic, the original picture depicts a great white shark trailing a kayaker, a dramatic scene that unfolded in the crystal blue waters of South Africa, as opposed to the flooded streets of the hoax image. As the Inquisitr has previously reported, the very same photo surfaced during Hurricane Sandy, and was widely shared on social media at that time.
Just last year, it made the rounds once again, this time attached to the claim that flooding in Houston had brought the shark inland. Shared over 50,000 times on Facebook alone (with an indeterminate reach on other social media platforms), the image was debunked by Snopes, which established that it was first circulated after Hurricane Irene struck Puerto Rico in 2011, replete with a fear-mongering caption.
“Why You Shouldn’t Swim After a Hurricane
This picture was taken in Puerto Rico shortly after Hurricane Irene ravaged the island. Yes, that’s a shark swimming down the street next to a car, and this is exactly why authorities in NYC are warning people not to go swimming in flood waters after a hurricane. Sharks go where fish go, and fish go where water goes, and if that water (and those subsequent fish) happen to be right outside your front door, then guess where that freakin’ shark’s going to be?!”
— Gilli | Logan (@Mcgillligan) October 7, 2016
The same image of a great white shark was also edited into a picture of a flooded Toronto subway station in 2012, ostensibly as a joke by a man named Jamie King, and shared on Twitter. This week, that image is being spread along with the claim that it depicts the Avenues Mall in Jacksonville, Florida. The photo actually had a second life in between its original appearance on social media and this week’s activity, when it circulated along with the explanation that it showed a collapsed shark tank in Kuwait.
— PeggytheShark (@PeggytheShark) August 8, 2016
The third notable image making its way across social media this week depicts a great white shark, apparently swimming in a backyard in St. Augustine (or Jacksonville, depending on the user). The original photo of the shark was taken in South Africa in 2006, and is available on Flickr. Even though the animal was edited into murkier water than the greenish-blue seascape of the Southern oceans where it was actually observed, the similarity is still obvious, though the effort has been good enough to fool a number of social media users.
— Cyndi Schonefeld (@OffCyndisc) October 7, 2016
These images have a long history online, taking on multiple lives as they are repeatedly spread with timely explanations. Despite repeated debunking, they continue to circulate, thanks largely to mankind’s inherent fear of, and fascination with, sharks. Hurricane Matthew won’t be the last time these photos appear online, so next time you see an image of a great white shark swimming down a flooded highway in your city, remember to approach it with the right amount of skepticism (because it’s almost certainly fake).