As Hurricane Ian ploughed through Florida, it brought a long-running hoax about marine life swimming in suburban floodwaters to life. A viral video of a shark swimming in the Fort Myers backyard has now been confirmed as original footage.
Racking up more than 13 million views on Twitter, the video showed a large, dark fish with sharp dorsal fins thrashing in the flood water, as users responded with disbelief, some dismissing it as fake.
The hapless fish was quickly dubbed as a "street shark” as users drew parallel with the cult classic Sharknado, a 2013 comedy disaster film in which sharks are lifted from the ocean following a waterspout and dropped in Los Angeles suburbs.
The video was first tweeted by Brad Habuda from Fort Myers tweeted on Wednesday afternoon. But he did not film the moment. Nor did Ed Bell, the person he credited in a follow-up tweet. The video was filmed by Dominic Cameratta, a local real estate developer.
He confirmed shooting the clip from his back patio Wednesday morning when he saw something “flopping around” in his neighbour’s flooded yard.
"I didn’t know what it was — it just looked like a fish or something," he told the Associated Press. "I zoomed in, and all my friends are like, ‘It’s like a shark, man!’"
The circulation of the video began after he sent it to a group chat on WhatsApp on Wednesday morning, according to his friend John Paul Murray, who sent the AP a timestamped screenshot.
— Brad Habuda (@BradHabuda) September 28, 2022
The identity of the marine animal is, however, yet to be confirmed, as experts had mixed opinions on whether it was a shark or a fish.
It “appears to be a juvenile shark”, said George Burgess, former director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s shark programme, while Dr Neil Hammerschlag, director of the University of Miami’s shark conservation programme, wrote that "it’s pretty hard to tell".
The fish may have made its way up from nearby Hendry Creek into a retention pond which overflooded after being hit by Hurricane Ian, says Mr Cameratta.
"It makes a bit more sense from a flooding standpoint," that the fish was spotted near an overflowing pond, said Leslie Guelcher, a professor of intelligence studies at Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania. Also among those who initially dismissed the video as fake, she asked:"But how on earth would a shark go from the Gulf of Mexico to a retention pond?"
Most sharks flee shallow bays ahead of hurricanes, possibly tipped off by a change in barometric pressure, explained Yannis Papastamatiou, a marine biologist who studies shark behaviour at Florida International University. So it is possible for it to accidentally swim up to the creek or be washed into it, he said.
"Young bull sharks are common inhabitants of low salinity waters — rivers, estuaries, subtropical embayments — and often appear in similar videos in FL water bodies connected to the sea such as coastal canals and ponds," Mr Burgess said.
"Assuming the location and date attributes are correct, it is likely this shark was swept shoreward with the rising seas."
Additional reporting from the wires