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No, an elephant seal didn’t wander the streets after Hurricane Ian

As Hurricane Ian pummeled southwest Florida on Sept. 28, 2022, a video circulated that supposedly showed an elephant seal stranded in the streets. But it’s old footage. Let’s look at the facts.

This video was not captured in Florida during Hurricane Ian in September 2022.
This is a genuine video of an elephant seal roaming the streets after being stranded in the seaside town of Puerto Cisnes, Chile in 2020.

NewsLit takeaway

Miscaptioned content is frequently shared in the wake of natural disasters. Social media users are inundated with devastating images and videos, and purveyors of misinformation can easily mislabel old content and share it as new.

This misleading video was viewed more than 16 million times as it circulated on Twitter. It plays into a common misinformation practice of doctoring or miscaptioning images of animals turning up in unlikely places during major weather events. Other false images — such as an Orca on a flooded street or this well-worn photo of sharks swimming at the bottom of a set of escalators — also circulated in the wake of the storm.

Recognizing common misinformation patterns makes it easier to navigate breaking weather news events. When a video or photo goes viral that supposedly shows an animal in an unusual place, it can be debunked by double-checking the source, searching for related news items or doing a reverse-image search.

NLP’s viral rumor rundown is a regular feature in The Sift, its weekly email newsletter for educators, and in Get Smart About News, its weekly email newsletter for the general public. You can subscribe to these newsletters here. Send suggestions, questions or feedback on this rumor or on the viral rumor rundown blog to thesift@newslit.org.