A few days ago a set of photos and a brief story hit the AP wire and went on a viral rampage across the Internet, infecting everything from junior high blogs to major media outlets like MSNBC.
The event was said to have taken place off the coast of South Africa and the story goes like this:
Cape Town Sailing Academy Administrator Paloma Werner was enjoying a Sunday sail with her boyfriend, business partner, and sailing instructor, Ralph Mothes when a young Southern Right Whale breached the surface right next to their yacht and flopped onto their deck, snapping the mast. As luck would have it, a tourist on a nearby boat snapped a photo just as the whale reached the zenith of its leap.
Once the photo hit the Internet, it and the story were off and running. Every news outlet ran it with a headline that read something like “Whale Jumps on Boat, Couple Unharmed.”
I have to tell you—I ain’t buying it.
What makes me so suspicious about the truth of this viral “news story” is that no one in the media is even focusing on the most fantastic part of the story!
Here’s what I mean: I read one such article on this whale thing in which a marine biologist was quoted as saying this kind of whale-boat midair collision was an extremely rare event—but one not entirely without precedent. So let’s say it was a million to one shot that this should occur. That’s a story to be sure, but not one worthy of the crazy attention this thing has gotten so far. What has pushed this story to worldwide prominence is that “a tourist” on another boat just happened to take a photo of the event. And if a whale hopping on a boat is a one in a million event, then someone actually being at that spot, at that time, with a camera, and paying enough attention to snap a series of perfectly shot photos of the event—the odds against that have to be at least a BILLION to one.
To me, the story of a billion to one event is more interesting than a million to one event. Or it should be AS interesting at least. So that leaves us with the question that few, if anyone, in the media has even thought about asking: what is the name of the person who took that damn picture?!!?
There should be SOME interest in the person who took the photo. I mean, I have yet to find a media outlet running this story that even mentions the photographer’s name! That person, whoever he or she is, is a huge part of this story! So, why is it we only hear from Ralph Mothes and Paloma Werner?
In fact, how did Mothes and Werner get possession of the photo from this unknown tourist in the first place? And I don’t mean physically—I mean legally. For indeed, when the photo is reproduced, it is credited as “Courtesy of Paloma Werner.” Did the nameless “tourist” just send the photo to this couple and then disappear? Does this person not have access to the Internet? Could he or she actually be unaware of the ubiquity of this little viral story? Doesn’t this nameless “tourist” want any credit for the photo of the year? Has she or he no desire to tell his or her story? They used to hand out Pulitzers for stuff like this!
So I think you’re getting my drift. Something is obviously fishy here (insert rimshot and laughtrack giggle). Only Werner and Mothes are telling the story, backing it up with a photo from an unnamed third party source who apparanlty provided them the photo and the dissapeared from the face of the Earth. This “missing photographer issue” pushes this viral story way over to the “hoax” side of the credibility scale for me. It could be a true story—I’m not going to come right out and call Mothes and Werner liars. But there is something very, very weird about this whole thing, and I can say with all honesty that I won’t be even a little bit surprised if this turns out to be a gigantic prank–another grab at meaningless fame similar to the “little boy gets trapped in homemade hot air balloon” hoax from a few months ago. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if someone finds separate photos of this exact same whale breaching with no boat nearby and the exact same photo of the yacht with no whale nearby.
And, to tell you the truth, if Mothes and Werner have actually fooled everyone with a well rehearsed tall tale and some skilled Photoshop jockeying—then more power to them. Why should the pleasure of making us look like gullible fools when we are gullible fools be restricted to politicians, advertising agencies and other professional con artists? Give the working man a chance for a change!
(And get me that photographer! I think there’s a whale about to breach in my living room!)