On 28 December 2015, an image purportedly showing a shark attacking two motorists stranded on a flooded Missouri highway started going viral on Facebook:
Before we examine the origins of the above-displayed image, let’s take a moment to judge the authenticity of the photograph based on simple common sense.
The man in the above-displayed picture is standing in about thigh-high water, and since the average male in the United States is about 5 foot 9, we can reasonably assume that the water is no more than a few feet deep. The rest of the lane is visible in the upper left-hand corner of the image, so it appears that this flood only affected a small portion of the roadway. Also, Missouri is a landlocked state in the central U.S. far from any ocean, so any flood waters in that area would likely be fresh water and not salt water. All of these factors make the pictured site a highly unlikely habitat for the ocean-going great white shark species.
In fact, a larger version of the image clearly shows that entire road is not flooded:
The text accompanying the image alleges that the incident took place in Missouri, a Midwestern state located about 400 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico:
While that is not an impossible distance for a great white shark to travel, it is highly implausible that a large sea creature such as a shark would be able to traverse a fresh water river all the way from the ocean up to Missouri. (A story earlier this year about a bull shark caught in the Missouri River turned out to be an April Fool’s joke.)
The Facebook post also mentions that the shark attack victims pictured were recent recipients of Mark Zuckerberg’s alleged $4.5 million giveaway. This is another indication that the photograph is a jape, since the claim that the founder of Facebook was giving away money to random people on Facebook was itself a hoax.
While Bill Tennison scored a viral hit in December 2015 when he claimed that a motorist was attacked by a shark on a flooded highway in Missouri, he wasn’t the first person to share this fake photograph. This image has been circulating online since at least 2000 and has been attached to flood waters in Ireland, Houston, England and New Orleans.
Also, as many commenters have pointed out, the license plates, road signs, and cars seen in the image indicate the pictured road is more likely located somewhere in the United Kingdom than Missouri.
Update: We received the following comment on 31 December 2015 from Stephen Rushbrook.
This was taken by Computer game Artist Russell Hughes when he was working for Stainless Games back at our farmhouse offices in the Isle of Wight
That spot is infamous for flooding. So on that stormy day we were all by the roadside laughing at those who didn’t know how to drive through a flood.
Later (after the pub, blacksmiths arms just up the road) he turned his photo into this. He then sent it to the company. It escaped when Matt Edmunds sent it to his friend at Reuters. It then became ‘news picture of the day’ and that was that. Within the day we were getting emails from our friends from round the world saying have you seen this ?
Btw it was taken here
near The Middle Rd, Newport, Isle of Wight PO30 4HP