There are two things you can expect any time an Atlantic hurricane breaches the shores of North America: there will be a lot of flooding, and people will tweet this stupid image of a shark swimming in the street:
For some reason, this sloppy photoshop has become a perennial favorite any time a major storm hits, particularly in the US, and the current flooding in South Carolina due to Hurricane Joaquin is no exception. In the last few days, the photo has appeared on Twitter, Imgur, and Reddit, purportedly captured on Ocean Boulevard in North Myrtle Beach. A local Myrtle Beach news station even ran a story clarifying that it's a hoax, and there are no sharks swimming along the highway.
"I see these kinds of photos pop up on social media during and immediately after just about every highly-publicized storm, in addition to just popping up randomly without a storm in the news," David Shiffman, a shark biologist and conservationist at the University of Miami, told me via email, adding that about a dozen people have emailed him the last few days asking if the most recent one is real.
Shiffman even penned a blog post back in 2013 trying to give people tips on how to identify faux-shark photos, where he noted that, to the best of his knowledge, "there has never been a confirmed photo of a shark swimming in city streets following a storm."
The "shark in the street" image first popped up back in 2011, after Hurricane Irene caused massive flooding in Puerto Rico.
Savvy internet users were quick to suss out that the image was a fake: the Washington Post reported that Redditors were first to point out the similarities between the shark in the flood photo and the one in a photo from a 2005 story in Africa Geographic. Quickly debunked, the shark photo eventually faded from social media, only to return again the next time a major flood hit.
It circulated in 2012, when it was purported to be from a New Jersey highway after Hurricane Sandy:
It even appeared earlier this year when a hearty rainfall caused flooding in Houston over Memorial Day weekend:
"Too many people click 'share' on fake news stories and images without taking a few seconds to determine if they're true," Shiffman told me. "It's usually pretty easy to tell."
As far as internet-hoaxes-that-won't-die go, this one is fairly harmless, and people seem to be catching on: there are almost as many "this isn't real" tweets with the photo as tweets saying "OMG shark on the streets of Myrtle Beach!"
But it's a little disappointing that this is the junk people choose to focus on, when at least five people have been killed due to the flooding caused by Hurricane Joaquin, and a cargo ship with 33 crew onboard sank in the storm. Just like the storms that surfaced this photo in the past, Hurricane Joaquin is causing extensive damage. Even if there were sharks swimming in the streets, that should be the least of our concerns.