Fact check: Viral images of a beached great white shark are fake

The claim: Photos show beached shark in Outer Banks, North Carolina

A March 25 Facebook post (direct link, archive link) shows a series of images purportedly of a beached shark.

"03/25 Giant great white shark washed out on the Outer Banks beach. People trying to push it back into the ocean," reads the post's caption.

It was shared more than 17,000 times in four days.

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These images are not real photographs and have elements consistent with being AI-generated, experts told USA TODAY. There have been no reports of beached sharks in Outer Banks, North Carolina, as of March 29.

Images are not genuine

It is not unusual for great white sharks to be found in North Carolina waters, but these images are not legitimate photographs of one.

"There are several parts of the images that look fake, such as the reflections and shadows," said James O'Brien, a forensic analysis expert at the University of California, Berkeley.

The faces of the onlookers are blurred and their fingers are distorted, which is a common sign of AI-generated images, USA TODAY previously reported.

And they don't show the same shark, O'Brien said.

"We’re not accustomed to using their faces to identify sharks, but we do it with people all the time," he said. "These sharks have different faces. In particular, the area near the shark's left eye and the lower-left part of its jaw."

The sharks are incorrect from a biological standpoint, too, said Ryan Lowndes, a graduate student of coastal marine and wetland studies at Coastal Carolina University.

"One photo gives the impression of six gill slits on the shark," said Lowndes, who is also a member of the university's shark research team. "While some shark species do have six or even seven, white sharks will always have only five."

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It's common for this species to be found off the North Carolina coast around this time of year, said Kristina Flanigan, another member of Coastal Carolina University's shark research team.

A whale shark swims in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean over the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument southeast of Cape Cod.
A whale shark swims in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean over the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument southeast of Cape Cod.

On March 25, Breton, a 1,500-pound great white shark, was found by OCEARCH off the eastern coast of Avon Island, USA TODAY previously reported.

However, there is no record of a shark beaching on the Outer Banks as of March 29, said Patricia Smith, a public information officer with the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries.

"NC Marine Patrol officers has not observed any large sharks washed ashore on the Outer Banks, nor has the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries received reports of a large shark washed ashore on the beach," she said.

The account that posted the images, called OBX Photos, has had other falsified images go viral, including one of a "giant fish" and another of an excessively large wave.

USA TODAY has previously debunked other AI-generated images, including ones showing former President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin being arrested, as well as a satanic hotel in Texas.

No connection to offshore wind projects

Commenters associated the falsified images with a conspiracy theory about offshore wind projects.

"I'd bet money on those wind turbines doing it! Setting off some kind of electrical charge that is killing them off," one person wrote.

However, there is no evidence to suggest that offshore wind turbines are responsible for the deaths of whales or other marine life along the East Coast, USA TODAY previously reported.

USA TODAY reached out to users who shared the post for comment.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Viral images of beached great white shark are fake