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Posted on Jan 19, 2010 in Top Shots
OMG! Have You Seen This???

Have you seen this? OMG! I just learned that they found a mummified mermaid in a marina in India, apparently uncovered by the 2004 Tsunami!

It's true! No, really it is! I know it is.

I know it because the information came to me in an email. And with photos to prove it! In fact, I sent it on immediately to everyone in the world I know -and a few I don't. (I love to pass along fascinating news like this that others might not see. Then all those people know I'm really on top of it. And they can pass the news on to everyone in the world they know, and a few they don't.)

And pretty soon, some of those people I don't know (or those I do and forgot on my list) send this back to me. And I'm like, duh! This is so yesterday!

Okay, I'm prevaricating. I do get these have-you-seen-this? emails (henceforth designated as "HYST"), of course. Doesn't everyone? But usually I'm one of those wise guys who has to go www.snopes.com to see the real history of the ludicrous "true" news that folks so quickly pass on. In the case of the marina mermaid, Snopes reminds us that the 2005 mermaid photos went around in 2003, but that year she'd been found by fishermen in the Philippines. The lady does get around! Next year, no doubt I'll get two or three e-mails from guys I know who seem like cogent, sentient beings, that say in all earnestness: "Incredible! Have you seen this???"

Of course topics of fish and fishing are at least as subject as anything else to absurd claims and facts that hordes of the gullible quickly embrace. But as with marina mermaid, such false reports aren't embraced only once. No, the HYSTs return again and again - Freddy Krueger lives, on the internet - usually in slightly different form.

I was reminded of all this just last week, when an email came to me from a source who is definitely not a stranger to fish and fishing, citing a huge white shark taken off California. As soon as I saw the photo, I gave a not-this-one-again groan. Wrong on two counts. First, it's a mako, not a white. (While that's evident from the teeth, it may not be evident to a general audience.) Secondly, it was caught off Nova Scotia, not California. How do I know all this? Because, in the past four or five years, this photo has come to me from well-meaning emailers time and again as either a white shark or a mako and it's been caught off the Mid-Atlantic, Texas, British Columbia (that one proved particularly popular for some reason) and elsewhere. In many of these, some enterprising prankster had further inserted an account of how this great white shark pulled a commercial dogfish boat backwards at 7 knots. I read it in the email; it must be true!

If you type in "mako shark" in the Snopes search box, you'll quickly learn the truth -that it is a monster mako, a 1,082-pound female caught during a 2004 shark derby held in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Just short of 11 feet long, the mako yielded $3,000 in prize money.

Feel free to tell your buddy Cornelius the truth when he e-mails you this photo next year with an amazing account of how this great white shark was caught by a pair of old bream anglers fishing with cane poles below the Lake Conestoga dam.

Of course, not all seemingly outrageous reports that drop into your inbox are false. Despite what Photoshop can accomplish, sometimes life really is stranger than fiction. I'm guessing some who read this blog will remember getting the have-you-seen-this email with crazy shots of a big catfish struggling at the surface of a lake with what appears to be a basketball stuck in it's maw. Yes, it looked preposterous, all right. But it was true. The real poop, on Snopes, is that a resident of Sandalwood Lake in Kansas noticed a bright-red child's basketball moving strangely at the surface. He went out on a boat with his camera and took the photos that then went quickly around the world on the web.

Most often Snopes tell us if a seemingly outrageous HYST e-mail is true or false. But sometimes the search rather offers the satisfaction of kissing one's sister when the result is what Snopes calls "multiple," meaning maybe partly true, maybe partly false (or, put another way, it ain't that simple). That's the assessment of emails with a photo anything but amusing that alert you to the nasty practice of shark fishermen on Réunion Island of using dogs and cats for live bait. The analysis finds evidence that in fact this may have happened though not on the widespread basis the reports suggested.

One rather silly bit of misinformation that only real fish heads (guilty, your honor) would note had surprising legs when it went around a couple years or more back - i.e., it went around and around and around; I received it probably a dozen different times. The emails trumpeted the "World-record piranha!" or variations on that in presenting photos of a tigerfish from some river in the southern part of Africa where these things live. That one I didn't need to check on Snopes since I knew the information was incorrect though it is on Snopes. But I can't agree with Snopes on this one since it declares the status as "undetermined." It is not a world record, it is not a piranha (it is a Characid, in the same family, but a much larger and much longer species) and it didn't come from South America as do piranhas.

Everyone knows you can't believe what you read in emails, yet often a surprising number of recipients seem to do just that. Before you pass on that next HYST email about some incredible fish or fishing event, take a moment to check Snopes. A little skepticism is a good thing. (Not that I'm not occasionally suckered in, also, when I pass along an email to get back a reply with a Snopes URL that leaves me slapping my head with a resounding "D'Oh!").

Of course Snopes isn't always in the know. It never knew jack about a certain Lonestar Bluewater Fishing Ranch in the Gulf of Mexico, for example.


Any experience with this kind of thing yourself? Talk about it in our forums!