Some people logged onto their computers Thursday morning and discovered an amazing story circulating on social media. Showcased was an image of a monstrous giant squid that had washed ashore on a Southern California beach (top photo).
The story, published by the Lightly Braised Turnip website, blamed leaking radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan for growing oversized sea creatures.
Remarkably, some people believed the story, which by Thursday afternoon had generated close to 100,000 Facebook likes.
Reads one of many comments: "The 'gift' that keeps on giving: Fukushima."
It's the latest example of sensational–or in this case fabricated–reports fueling concerns that the Pacific Ocean is dying in the aftermath of the 2011 nuclear disaster.
Has this concern reached the point of hysteria?
Perhaps not yet, but more people seem to be falling for gloom-and-doom reports that are either sensational, baseless, fabricated… or all of the above. (Lightly Braised Turnip produces more than its share of parody and sensationalism.)
This is especially evident in California, despite recent assurances by scientists from UC Santa Cruz and New York's Stony Brook University that very low levels of radiation first detected two years ago have since diminished and are far below levels that are considered unsafe.
Lightly Braised Turnip's story pegged the squid at 160 feet long, and topped it with this headline: "Alarms sound over radioactive gigantism."
Giant squid measure to about 33 feet and it required only some brief detective work to uncover the original photos. The top image was captured in Chile in 2011, but instead of a giant squid there was a dead whale that had washed ashore (see second image; it's one of a sequence captured on the beach near Santiago).
The squid photo was pulled from an image captured in Spain early last October. That beached specimen measured 30 feet. So, the first three images on this post complete the puzzle and blow the hoax out of the water.
But real events also are being blamed on Fukushima.
After I broke the story Monday about the first-known discovery of conjoined gray whale twins, in a Baja California lagoon, many blamed or suspected radiation (see fourth image).
"Let's keep our fingers crossed that this isn't related to Fukushima and the event with these whales being born as conjoined twins was just a fluke of nature," reads one of the more reasonable comments.
Long before the 2011 Fukushima meltdown there was documentation of other whale species giving birth to conjoined twins. It's a rare, but natural event.
Two deep-water oarfish that washed ashore in California, within a week of each other last October? Radiation! (Last image shows one of the two.)
Deep Sea News points out some of the more sensational headlines that have appeared atop doom-and-gloom reports in the past few months. They include these gems: "Holy Fukushima–Radiation from Japan Is Already Killing North Americans," and "28 Signs That The West Coast Is Absolutely Being Fried With Radiation From Fukushima."
These reports, Deep Sea News states, "are just plain garbage and were meant to scare people."
This week the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute felt compelled to debunk "misleading stories" about its own published research, pertaining to a natural die-off of salps–gelatinous mid-water animals that eat algae–after a phenomenal reproduction event in 2012.
After the salps died, they sank thousands of feet and carpeted a portion of the abyssal plain under study by MBARI researchers. One "misleading story" carried the headline: "Dead sea creatures cover 98% of the ocean floor off California."
In truth, MBARI states, "Research actually suggested that there were MORE algae and salps living in California surface waters during 2011 and 2012 than during the previous 20 years."
Meanwhile, in the San Francisco Bay area, scientists and public agencies this week are trying to assure people that beaches are safe despite an Internet video that recently surfaced, claiming that high radiation levels had been detected with a Geiger counter in the sand at Pacifica State Beach.
In the video, a man is shown displaying the Geiger counter and its high-level "alert" readings. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Geiger counters do measure radiation levels but cannot determine the source of radioactivity, and that tests by public health experts determined that the radiation came from natural sources, most likely ancient rocks eroded in nearby bluffs.
"There is no public health risk at California beaches due to radioactivity related to events at Fukushima," the California Department of Public Health said.
Whether this will actually assure people, however, depends on their mindset.
–Pete Thomas, via GrindTv Outdoor
–Photos, in order, show photoshopped squid; original image showing a real whale where the squid was placed; giant squid image captured in Spain last year (credit: Enrique Talledo); conjoined gray whale twins (Jesus Gomez), and oarfish (Catalina Island Marine Institute)