By now, you’ve likely seen an image of a great white shark breaking the surface of a calm sea somewhere in your Twitter or Facebook feed, complete with a caption designating it a “rare picture of a shark stepping on a Lego,” but the real story behind the viral image is even more interesting than the photo might at first suggest.
The now-viral image was first noticed by Robert Petersen, a student in Reno, Nevada, according to Cnet. While looking at the photo, he made a connection between the shark’s gaping maw and the very human pain of stepping on a wayward Lego brick, something most of us can relate to. Captioning the photo, he tweeted it on Thursday, unaware of the overwhelming response his thought would receive.
Rare image of a shark stepping on a Lego. pic.twitter.com/xkadJmPkRg
— Robert Petersen (@Sonikku_a) September 29, 2016
The image quickly went viral and has since been retweeted more than 86,000 times, earning over 156,000 likes, as CBS 8 notes. The photo made its way to Facebook as well, where it has been shared both with and without Petersen’s name attached. The response was so overwhelming, in fact, that Petersen even posted a video online depicting the near-constant notifications he received as the photo spread.
Petersen attributes the image’s stunning popularity to the fact that the pain of stepping on a Lego brick is a nearly universal experience in the Western world, while the public’s ongoing fascination with sharks certainly hasn’t hurt.
“I think the (tweet’s) popularity arises from the fact that people love sharks, and love Lego, so it’s kind of a perfect combination.”
The original photo is somewhat new and was only taken this past January by shark attack survivor Mike Coots. Now an advocate for the species despite losing his leg to a tiger shark, Coots actively works against the global shark fin trade, which causes ongoing devastation for many species. A photographer who shares shark images on his Instagram account, Coots even took over the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Instagram during this summer’s Shark Week, utilizing the platform to spread his message of conservation.
Stunning great white shark image. (Photo by Amanda Brewer) pic.twitter.com/J7QVgm6bsK
— Awesome Places (@SeeAwesomePlace) October 5, 2016
Coots managed to capture the photo of the great white while on vacation with his girlfriend at Stewart Island in New Zealand, one of the globe’s notable aggregation sites for the species. The pair were actually engaged in a shark dive when the white shark started displaying an unusual behavior, which Coots managed to document.
“It was on a GoPro on a long wooden dowel on the 0.5 sec timer mode. The shark was doing what was called ‘gaping’ (a shark-communication behavior) and I happened to capture it.”
— Doug Fraser (@dougfrasercct) October 3, 2016
Coots is hardly alone in his mission of shark conservation. As the Inquisitr has previously noted, groups like the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy in the United States have actively worked to change the public’s perception of the species, and as Coots pointed out, replacing fear with humor is an extremely effective way to do just that.
“I think by using humor to personify what could be looked at as a scary ‘teethy’ image, it helps calm the myth that sharks are these dangerous non-discriminate killers without feelings. Humor is used with personification to remove fear and is replaced with laughter. Got to love that.”
As Coots’ photo continues to spread online, complete with Petersen’s “shark stepping on a Lego” caption, the photographer admitted that its newfound notoriety doesn’t bother him in the slightest.