False: A whale and crocodiles in floodwaters digitally added; images not taken in China, either
A tweet claimed on July 20 that crocodiles and a whale escaped from the Zhengzhou Aquarium after dams were opened to supposedly control the flooding.
The post contained two images of crocodiles – one holding a woman’s body in its mouth and one inside an area with shallow floodwaters. A collage of three images in the same post, meanwhile, showed what appears to be a whale jumping out of the water.
The Chinese post, when translated to English, reads:
#鄭州海洋館 (Zhengzhou aquarium) whales, crocodiles escaped in floodwater. Dams in #鄭州 (Zhengzhou) were opened to drain the flood. This is human negligence causing numerous casualties. #唔係天災係人禍 (Not natural hazard but caused by human)
Update: Zhengzhou authorities confirmed 12 people died in the subway (underground train) flood
The tweet has gained 210 likes and has been retweeted 120 times at the time of writing.
The second image has also been posted to Facebook. Zhengzhou, the capital city of Henan province, experienced record-breaking rainfall in the week of July 17, resulting in massive flooding.
Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao reported that the Zhengzhou dam was opened to release water at the height of the typhoon In-fa, quoting authorities who said that failure to do so will exacerbate flooding.
However, all images in the tweet have nothing to do with the recent floods in China. Also, there have been no reports about the supposed destruction of the Zhengzhou Aquarium, a tourist attraction in Jinshui District.
The first image shows a crocodile holding what appears to be a woman’s body in its mouth in the waters.
Image search led to this article on Infobae, a news website that covers different countries in Latin America as well as the United States. The article, posted on June 22, said a woman washing clothes was attacked by a crocodile in the city of Tampico in Tamaulipas, Mexico.
Keyword search on YouTube also led to this report by the Mexican broadcast organization Imagen Noticias on June 23, which showed a video of the incident.
This photo seemed to be a screenshot of a video of the incident which was uploaded by an eyewitness.
The second image is a collage of photos showing a whale jumping out of flooded streets.
In response to the collage, a user posted a video of the same scene on Facebook.
Image search led to this video posted by a user named Zamir Salavatov. Salavatov’s profile on Instagram said he is the founder of VFX news, a video-producing company that creates 3D visuals.
In an Instagram message to Annie Lab on July 22, Salavatov confirmed that the whale is one of his “visual effects work.”
Annie Lab also noticed the structure with a geometric design at the end of the video and discovered that it is called Anzhi Bazar located in Makhachkala, Russia. The building was demolished in 2015.
Using the keyword “Махачкала Потоп” (Makhachkala flood), we found a video clip (0:27-0:31) showing the flooded intersection. This video was posted in 2013 and there is no whale in it.
We made a comparison video of the YouTube clip showing the flooded streets (left) and the edited Instagram video (right). The original video does not show a whale.
Annie Lab also found a video clip of the whale by using the phrase “whale jumping out of water” on YouTube. It is a drone video of humpback whales filmed on Benguerra Island in Mozambique, East Africa, according to its description. The video was uploaded in 2017.
Annie Lab doubled the playback speed of the drone video on YouTube and found the movement of the whale matches the one in the edited Instagram video.
We also made a comparison video of the whale with the YouTube clip (left) showing the whale with that of the Instagram video (right). The playback speed of the video was doubled.
The tweet in question also included another image showing a crocodile in the shallow water.
Our image search led to this Facebook post uploaded on June 1.
Annie Lab sent a Facebook message to the account holder Bobsteel B. Gualiza. He replied to us on July 27 and said he “edited the photo just for fun.”
An article published on June 4 by the Manila Bulletin, a Filipino English news site, said it took Gualiza five minutes to edit the photo “using an app in his phone.”
He was quoted as saying that he thought it would be “nice to include an alligator in the photo” because it was raining then.
Annie Lab also found the image of the same crocodile posted on May 8, 2009, in a blogpost.
On July 17, persistent “rare and severe rains” in Henan led to serious flooding. On July 20, the city of Zhengzhou alone saw a record rainfall of 209.1mm in just one hour. The flood was caused by the typhoon In-fa that was approaching Eastern China at the time.
Chinese fact-checking media Jiaozhen also earlier reported that the video of the whale jumping out of the floodwater has been edited.
[Added on Aug. 13, 2021]
Annie Lab’s Gigi Tang and Justin Cheung walk you through our fact-checking process in the following YouTube video.