No. This pod of whales were not spotted in Sri Lankan waters

False Social

People across the world have been confined to their homes due to lockdowns and curfews that have been imposed to contain the spread of COVID19. As soon as the coronavirus lockdowns started in different countries, images and videos of animals venturing out into cities have flooded media platforms. 

The narrative accompanying such posts was that the absence of humans due to lockdown has enabled the animals to roam freely in human settlements just like they do in the wild. While some of the posts were indeed true, however a large number of old images have also been circulating on social media with false context. A recent example of the same is an image of a herd of deer on a Japanese street was spread claiming to be from various parts of Sri Lanka and here is our fact check on these claims.

On a similar note a video of several whales swimming is circulating on Social Media space in Sri Lanka and few other parts of the world as well. The video is claimed to be captured off the sea of Puttalam.  

One Facebook user posted below video claiming to be a location near Puttalam. (Northwestern region of Sri Lanka)

“Bright side of Epidemic. Nature is back in its best shape. Giant whales captured near Puttlam, Sri Lanka on 4th April 2020”

Facebook LinkArchived Link

Below is another post with the same claim

“Earth is healing. Let us all stay inside. In paradise island puttalam, Sri Lanka”

Facebook LinkArchived Link

Facebook user Ashan Seneviratne shared the video and claimed it was Humpback whales off Kalpitiya. “WOW 🤗 …. Humpback Whale pod off Kalpitiya Marine Wildlife Expeditions & Cruises Sri Lanka”

Facebook LinkArchived Link

Another post mentions how the sea off Puttalam has cleared up, the caption of the post is as such: “Yesterday at the Putlam Anchorage where the ships normally discharge coal to the barges for Norochcholai. 👇”

Facebook LinkArchived Link

The video has also been shared multiple times on Twitter with the caption, “Norochcholi Sri Lanka”

Twitter LinkArchived Link

Fact Check 

We did a Yandex Reverse Image search on a video frame extracted from video analysis tool In-Vid from the video claiming to be whales off Puttalam and noticed several links for identical content.

Yandex Reverse Image Search 

Yandex search revealed a link with the same video shared back in August 29th, 2019 by BBC News Indonesia. Translation of the tweet and caption suggest that the video was captured off Karimunjawa sea. 

Google Translation of the Tweet : [Video] A group of humpback whales are seen crossing the Karimunjawa sea, even though Indonesian waters are not part of their annual migration path.

Twitter Link

We further searched about the video and found that “Oceanswell” a Marine conservation research and education organization founded by Marine biologist and National Geographic Explorer Asha de Vos had also shared a post with the video. 

Facebook Link

The post says video is not captured in Sri Lanka. Below is an extract from the Facebook post.

“Thanks to everyone who thought of us and Dr. Asha when they saw the video of 5 humpback whales off Puttalam. We are grateful that some of you were skeptical and came to us for verification. We shared your skepticism and publicly stated that this was an unverified claim unless supported with solid evidence.
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There are many reasons why we didn’t rush headlong into celebrating this sighting:
1. Humpback whales are very rare in our waters. We have probably had 4-5 sightings in the last decade.

2. Researchers who work with the Arabian Sea humpback whale population note that seeing this many together in our region is near unheard of.

3. This video was first circulated with a tag saying, ‘seen off Mumbai’. Today it was changed to ‘seen off Puttalam’.

4. As with all fake news, there was no credible source attached to it. When I asked people to verify they said “so and so confirmed because s/he got from so and so he had got it from so and so” – that’s hardly a credible source.

5. Dr. Asha and Oceanswell are part of the Arabian Sea Whale Network (ASWN), which comprises of scientists in the region who work on whales, and we were discussing this video and the lack of any proper source from yesterday in the context of India. This morning I was pretty surprised to see the swift location change.
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What’s the verdict?

It’s fake news. An Indian colleague, Shaunak Modi, dug around and found this exact same video uploaded on YouTube back in September 2019 (see image for proof). It’s the absolute EXACT video but from a totally different part of the world!
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So what we ask is that you enjoy videos like these because whales are incredible, but be careful about spreading false news. If you reach out, we will do what we can to help verify the claim but in the meantime, be mindful of what you share around – whether it’s whale videos or health advice! Thanks a heap and feel free to share this statement with your friends.”

The same video of a pod of whales swimming went viral in India as well relating that the scene was spotted near Bombay High. Several Indian fact-checks have clarified that the video was shared back in August, 2019 by BBC News Indonesia and it was captured around Karimunjawa, an Indonesian archipelago in the Java Sea.

Several of our head office teams have also done this fact check and below is the English version done by Factcrescendo India

Web Link

Conclusion: 

From our investigation it is clear that the video of “Whales in Puttalam” was not captured during the lockdown period in Sri Lanka but it was captured in Indonesian waters and published in August, 2019 by BBC News Indonesia.

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Title:No. This pod of whales were not spotted in Sri Lankan waters

Fact Check By: Sathyajith Subasinghe 

Result: False

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