Even sharks, apparently, are being swept up in the fake news craze.
This week several news websites (mostly tabloids) published stories in which Simone Gutsche, a German actress and model, is pictured waist-deep in the Florida surf, facing the beach, with a large shark lurking ominously close behind her.
People on the beach are said to have yelled and waved their arms to alert Gutsche of the danger. She merely waved back.
Gutsche, 34, is quoted in some of the reports as saying, "It was lovely on Cocoa Beach. Nobody in the water and only a few couples on the beach. Then a couple started to wave at me. I wanted to be friendly so I waved back at them."
After looking at the photo, Gutsche added: "I was so scared that I didn't put a foot in the water for the rest of the day." (The original report appears to have come from the German tabloid Bild.)
The shark was widely reported to have been a tiger shark, a species implicated in multiple fatal attacks on humans over the years. At least seven websites ran with the story.
But it seems that this was either a publicity stunt, somebody’s idea of a joke, or an attempt by certain media to generate website traffic via a fabricated news story.
On Thursday, marine biologist Drew Scerbo claimed on Facebook to have exposed the photo as a fraud, debunking the actress-in-peril story.
“Another youth trying to make a name out of false publicity,” Scerbo wrote, in reference to Gutsche.
Scerbo, scientific advisor to the White Shark Advocacy Group, posted a twin photo showing the Gutsche image at the top and a hammerhead shark image at the bottom. The dorsal fin size and structure are identical in both photos.
Scerbo, who has exposed fraudulent photos in the past, told GrindTV that he found the hammerhead image simply by Googling "shark fin." The image turned up on Pixabay.
"If I've learned one thing," the scientist said, "it's that these fakers are not very inventive when it comes to fabricating these shark stories. Usually, I try a few searches, and thus far, I've found them pretty quickly.
"As they say, there is no amount of analysis and investigation that can make up for the limited intellect of the type of people that do this."
A look at Gutsche's Instagram page revealed no recent photos of her wearing the green bikini with a dangerous shark closing in from behind.
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