WATERTOWN – Lake Ontario swimmers may breathe easily again after feeling a jolt of fear.
A video uploaded to YouTube on July 10 showing what appeared to be a shark in Lake Ontario turned out to be a publicity hoax to promote Discovery Canada’s “Shark Week” special, which airs Aug. 10-16. The cable channel confirmed the stunt Wednesday, explaining that a lifelike prosthetic model was used in the video.
The viral video, which had nearly 520,000 views Thursday morning, appears to show a shark on a fisherman’s line near Wolfe Island, Ont. The fishermen in the video, who are standing on a dock, act shocked when a huge creature with a dorsal fin emerges in the water.
In spite of Discovery’s harmless intentions, the Canadian Press reported the video spurred many Wolfe Island residents to stop swimming. The clip, which was posted without making reference to the marketing scheme, caused politicians and experts to consider whether a shark could indeed migrate into Lake Ontario via the St. Lawrence Seaway.
It also caused a stir among members of the Ontario Legislature. Ontario Minister of Natural Resources Bill Mauro cautioned the public to stay safe and report if the shark was sighted, according to the Canadian Press.
The Canadian Press began investigating the merit of the online video Wednesday because lawmakers on the Ontario Legislature began to discuss it, said reporter Diana Mehta, who covered the story for the news outlet. Mehta said that before Discovery announced the video was a hoax later in the day, she investigated the merit of the video by talking to shark experts.
“We started looking at what (politicians) were discussing and analyzed it,” Ms. Mehta said.
“I took the video to shark experts who analyzed the clip. They concluded that it wasn’t a shark, but maybe a large catfish. They said sharks can’t survive in Lake Ontario because the waters are too cold. The whole point of the reporting was to bring an analytical eye to it to see if it was real. While that story was being put together over the course of the day, Discovery Canada then put together their release to say the shark video, which was getting a lot of buzz online, was in fact an elaborate marketing ploy.”
Mehta said the video had an upsetting effect on Wolfe Island residents she interviewed Wednesday. She said Discovery Channel President Paul Lewis told the Canadian press he didn’t expect the video would alarm residents.
Residents “were relieved and a little frustrated they were part of the elaborate hoax,” Mehta said. “The clip caused real concerns among the people in the area where it was filmed. I asked the Discovery Channel president about it and he said that played into the decision to reveal the clip as a hoax, because they believed it perhaps caused more concern than they thought it would.”
After it was released July 10, news of the video swiftly snowballed on social media, Mehta said. Other Canadian media outlets reported on the story before Discovery announced the hoax, fueling speculation.
“Residents I spoke with said they had come across the clip when it was shared on social media, through a Facebook or Twitter link,” she said. “Yesterday they were getting a lot of calls from reporters, and that’s sort of the way it played out.”
Lewis, in a statement, said the viral video served its purpose by spotlighting Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week.” He made no mention, however, of the unintended fear it caused among local residents.
“This video has certainly sparked the conversation around sharks, confirming what we already know to be true: Canadians are captivated by these creatures,” he said. “We’re ready to feed this fascination next month with more Shark Week hours than ever before.”
The possibility of sharks surfacing in the Great Lakes will be explored by Discovery during part of its Shark Week programming, the channel reported. Its news release said the program “delves into Canadian waters to meet the scientist and explore the question: Could sharks surface in the Great Lakes?”