14 Not-Fake Shark Pictures From a Real Nat Geo Photographer

A phony photograph of a shark is the latest in a year of fake news. But these images are all real.

When a man on Twitter claimed to be National Geographic's chief photographer, several photo editors at the magazine assembled to discuss. "Have you ever heard of this guy?" None had.

The man, who goes by the alias Bob Burton, claimed (falsely) to have taken National Geographic's photo of the year (an award we don't have) of a shark leaping out of the water (which is clearly fake). But none of those erroneous details seemed to matter as the image made the rounds of social media to enthusiastic reviews.

"Whoa!" several people commented. Others called it "amazing" and "unbelievable."

All seemed like fitting descriptions in a year so indelibly marked by fake news, so much of which has, in fact, been amazingly unbelievable. Some of 2016's whoppers were misleading, such as the fictional reports about the U.S. presidential election. Other stories were dangerous, like the untrue rumours about a Washington, D.C., restaurant, which was then visited by a man with an assault rifle (he fired the weapon but no one was hurt).

A Photoshopped shark seems like small potatoes next to a man with a gun. And it is. But fake anything circulating as real is a threat to those of us in the business of telling the truth. Untrue stories also erode the trust of anyone who consumes the truth, and who looks to professionals for authenticity, not practical jokes, hoaxes, and counterfeiting.

So we wanted to take the opportunity to resurface some of our real photographs of sharks—photos taken by our seasoned photographers and selected by our experienced picture editors. One part of this episode that particularly stung was knowing how difficult it is to actually photograph wild animals, and how dangerous it often is to get a great shot.

Large pelagic fish, oceanic whitetip sharks swim in the waters off Cat Island in the Bahamas. PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN SKERRY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

A neonate tiger shark pup, approximately six days old, is being studied in captivity at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology in Oahu.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN SKERRY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


Shortfin mako sharks produce pups in the summer and fall off the coast of San Diego, California.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN SKERRY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


Oceanic whitetip sharks swarm the waters off Cat Island.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN SKERRY, NATIONAL
GEORGAPHIC

A great white shark attacks a seal decoy off Chatham, Massachusetts, during a scientific study into feeding patterns.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN SKERRY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


This extreme close-up reveals the inside of a tiger shark’s mouth.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN SKERRY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


A great
whitesharks hunts off the North Neptune Islands, Australia.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN SKERRY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


Oceanic white tips are considered the fourth most dangerous sharks to people.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN SKERRY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


A great white shark chases a seal decoy off Cape Cod during a study. Great whites have been booming in the area, thanks to a resurgence of their
favorite prey: gray seals.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN SKERRY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


Great white sharks swim off the South Neptune Islands.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN SKERRY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


The mako is one of the fastest fish in the sea, swimming in bursts of 55 miles an hour. Its body also generates its own heat.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN SKERRY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

A shortfin mako swims off New Zealand’s North Island.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN SKERRY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


Gray seals frequent the sandy beaches of Cape Cod, drawing in hungry great white sharks.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN SKERRY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Advanced photography skills can't be faked, nor can the costly and technical equipment necessary. That's true for photographing all animals, and it's especially true for sharks.

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: PHOTOGRAPHING GREAT WHITE SHARKS OFF CAPE COD

Daniel Stone is a staff writer for National Geographic magazine, where he covers environmental science and agriculture.

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