On 10 November 2015, humor web site The Onion published the above-reproduced photograph along with the headline: "SeaWorld Employees Place Orcas in Plastic Bags of Water While Cleaning Tanks":
SeaWorld Employees Place Orcas In Plastic Bags Of Water While Cleaning Tanks pic.twitter.com/p442zUuG0f — The Onion (@TheOnion) November 10, 2015
Although most folks knew The Onion (and therefore understood the tweet's satirical intent), a significant number believed the claim to be straightforward and believed the large killer whales were actually kept in large bags during tank cleaning as if they were tropical fish
Examples: [Collected via Twitter and Facebook, November 2015]
@SeaWorld putting orcas in plastic bags while they clean the tanks, feel physically sick, they should be fucking free
— Hannah Edwards ॐ (@hannahhhkatee) November 10, 2015
I swear to the goddess of this earth that karma will shut them down. They will get what's coming to them.
How do you place orcas in a bag plastic bag of water like that? — Mhish [mee shan] (@eMCee05) November 10, 2015
Wake up people, quit focusing on coffee cups and realize what's important!
Social sites are flooded with fake news sites which aim to dupe users into sharing outlandish false stories, but The Onion is generally recognized as one of the few genuinely satirical sites on the web (i.e., it is intended to entertain readers, not deceive them).
The Onion has operated as a satirical news outlet for many years, but its material is still mistaken for real news on occasion. Before fake news peddlers plagued social media with a flood of fabricated tales, such errors inspired a popular blog devoted entirely to instances where the outlet's articles were mistaken for actual news.
A previous "crossover" article published by The Onion (titled "New SeaWorld Show Just Elephant Drowning in Large Tank of Water with No Explanation") inspired similar misplaced ire aimed at the marine park franchise. Another confusing piece from the site described a teen whose parents intended to euthanize her, presented (as the orca claim) without an attendant article underscoring the satire.