Fact Check

Is This Man Surfing with a Whale?

Photobombing is seemingly an activity not limited to terrestrial mammals.

Published Dec 30, 2015

 (Tim McKenna)
Image Via Tim McKenna
A photograph shows a man surfing with a whale.

An image purportedly showing a large whale swimming near a big-wave surfer started circulating online in December 2015:

Although several real images have captured large marine animals beneath the waves near surfers, scuba divers, and kayakers, the above-displayed image is not one of them.

This picture is a piece of digital art created by Julian Herbrig. The original image of a surfer was taken by photographer Tim McKenna in Teahupoo, Tahiti, in 2006 and captured Manoa Drollet, a Billabong team rider who said that the pictured wave was one of the biggest he rode in 2006:


“I compare it to driving fast in a car through a corner and making it around,” joked the quietly spoken Tahitian. “When you have got your Sh@t together and you are going good, then you feel great.”

“I haven’t seen all the shots and it’s hard to tell because when you are on it, you just want to make the wave,” hey said. “I want to see the pictures, and then I’ll judge from there, but I’d be stoked if it is the biggest one.”

An aerial photograph of a minke whale taken in 2005 by an Icelandic tour company was merged with the picture of Drollet to create the composite image:

View this post on Instagram

I don’t usually post photos that have been manipulated by graphic artists in Photoshop. However this one has been going around numerous instagram accounts for a few months now so since it's April fools' day I am going to take the opportunity to give some info on the image. I shot the original photo of Tahitian surfer Manoa Drollet @dmanoa nearly 10 years ago , on July 28 th , 2006 at #teahupoo #tahiti. Manoa was actually nominated for biggest barrel of the year at the XXL awards in 2007 , now the @wsl @wslbigwaveawards Digital graphic artist Julian Herbrig @care4art took the original photo and flipped it. Regular foot Manoa Drollet ends being a goofy foot charging a massive right hander. He then added an aerial drone photo of a Blue whale in the face of the wave. Although we do see many humpback whales cruise by Teahupoo in winter time, I have never witnessed a blue whale in French Polynesia and certainly not trying to drop in at Teahupoo ! Certainly is catchy ! #fake #surfing #whale #bigwaves #ps #tahiti #photoshop #whalebodysurfing

A post shared by Tim McKenna Photography (@timmckenna) on

A comparison of the two images shows that the original surfing photograph was flipped before the whale was added in the background:

whale collage

This wasn't the first time that McKenna's photography has been used as the basis for a doctored image. In 2013, Deviant Art artist Chris Bennier posted the following picture:

surfer shark

Fortunately, that image, too, was a composite.


Surfing Waves.   "Billabong Team Rider Manoa Drollet Scores Huge Teahupoo, Tahiti."     Accessed 30 December 2015.

boardmag.com.   "Teahupoo Terror -- Manoa Drollet on the Highest Wave 'Ever.'"     7 August 2006.

Gentle Giants.   "Minke Close Up."     22 July 2005.

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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