26 September 2023
Fact checkMisleading

Misleading: These bizarre fish photos are unrelated to water near Fukushima

One photo was taken before the nuclear accident; one is doctored, one shows a freshwater fish; the other was initially tied to domestic wastewater far away from Fukushima

A tweet on June 4 featured a collage of four images showing odd-looking fish. The post condemned Japan’s plan to discharge “nuclear-contaminated water” into the ocean, which, the user claims, is at the “extremely dangerous stage,” implying the image shows fish affected by radiation in the past.

Every fish featured in the collage appears deformed with curved spines, two mouths, or giant eyes. Two of the four images were accompanied by keywords in Japanese that read, when translated to English, “Fukushima,” “deformed,” “fish,” radioactivity,” and “nuclear power.”

Tokyo Electric Power Company announced in June that it finished sending seawater into a tunnel built for releasing more than a million tons of treated and diluted water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the site of the devastating 2011 nuclear accident, into the ocean.

Japan’s controversial move has divided its neighboring countries and scientists, making news headlines globally. Chinese state media reported that radioactive elements in marine fish caught near Fukushima exceeded “180 times the safe limit.”

Annie Lab looked into the origin of all four images. We anticipate that these images and many other images like them will circulate and recirculate widely in the near future.

We numbered each image for easy reference

1. Deformed fish photo was taken a year before the nuclear accident

Annie Lab found that the first image was taken in 2010, a year before the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was crippled by the massive tsunami caused by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake.

Through image search, we found a Japanese blog entry in 2012 that featured the same deformed fish photo, which attributed it to another 2010 blog post on Rakuten.

A screenshot of the Rakuten blog post in 2010.

The blog, which appears to be written by a fishing enthusiast, said the fish in question was caught on July 23, 2010, nine months before the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The blogger suspected that the deformation might be caused by parasites.

2. Image of fish with a gigantic eye is old and manipulated

Through image search, we found a 2019 news article with a photo almost identical to the second image featuring a man holding a fish with a huge eye.

From media reports, we learnt that a man named Oscar Lundahl is holding the fish in the photo.

We then found the original picture posted to Lundahl’s Instagram account, “halibutcher”, in September 2019.

The picture shows a deepwater fish commonly known as roughhead grenadier, which was caught on the Norwegian coastline, according to the post.

Screenshot of the original photo showing Oscar Lundahl holding the fish in 2019.

The image in the tweet is a manipulated version of this photograph, with Lundahl’s face altered to look like an Asian man.

The original on Instagram (left) and the doctored Twitter image (right).

This doctored version was falsely linked to the Fukushima accident in 2019 as well.

3. Image of a fish with two mouths was caught in a lake in South Australia

Through image search, Annie Lab found a 2015 ABC news report about a bony bream with two mouths, which was caught in a lake in South Australia.

The fisherman, Garry Warrick, told ABC that this was not the first time he had caught a deformed fish there, but it was his first time to come across a two-mouthed bony bream.

Considering that it is a freshwater fish found in a lake in Australia, this bony bream in the photo is almost certainly unaffected by the ocean water near Fukushima.

4. Fish with a curved spine placed next to a blue slipper was formerly shared with a different context

Annie Lab could not identify the origin of the fourth image, but we found another tweet posted in February 2020 with the same image.

This tweet said it was a dolphin fish (Coryphaenidae) commonly known as “mahi-mahi” in Japan and Hawaii, and it was caught in Miyakojima, an island about 2,000 kilometers away from the coast near Fukushima.

This older tweet does not mention radiation at all and instead blames domestic wastewater for the deformity, suggesting “shampoos and body soap” could be the cause.

Over the years, many social media posts allegedly demonstrating the effect of radioactive waste from Fukushima have been debunked by many fact-checking organizations, including Snopes, PolitiFact and MyGoPen.