To professional fact-checkers who sort fact from fable on social media, Hurricane Shark has been a longtime nemesis.
For more than a decade, fake, grainy images of a shark swimming in waters it doesn’t belong in — usually a highway and a subway platform — have reliably circulated during nearly every major storm.
It was never real. Yet it kept coming up, shared without skepticism yet again, and the checkers of facts were forced to defeat it again, over and over.
So you can imagine their hesitant surprise when a new video emerged on Wednesday appearing to show a shark in a backyard near Fort Myers, Fla., which had been battered by Hurricane Ian and was beginning to flood. Though this video didn’t have the telltale signs of fakery that previous versions did, skepticism was warranted as it racked up millions of views on Twitter.
Then evidence began emerging that it might actually be real. And on Thursday, The Associated Press confirmed its authenticity with firsthand interviews and an analysis of the original clip’s metadata, nailing down a story reporters thought they would never write. Storyful, a news agency, also confirmed it was genuine.
It was like discovering Bigfoot is real.
“After over half a decade of debunking this hoax every time there was a flood or hurricane, I can’t believe I’m looking at an honest-to-god street shark,” wrote Jane Lytvynenko, a freelance reporter. “Good to finally meet you, pal.”
The A.P. analysis appeared to leave little doubt about the video’s authenticity. The news agency quoted Dominic Cameratta, a local real estate developer, who confirmed he filmed the clip himself. The metadata of the original clip showed it was captured Wednesday morning.
What is less certain is what animal was seen in the clip. Experts disagree on whether it was a shark or a large fish. The video shows what appears to be a fin sticking out of the water, but there did not appear to be enough evidence to know with certainty. The Associated Press quoted two experts, one who said it “appears to be a juvenile shark” and another who said “it’s pretty hard to tell.”