Two San Diego Stations Own Up to Airing Fake Shark Photo After Warning Viewers of Danger

By Kevin Eck 

Two San Diego stations warned viewers last month about a great white shark swimming close to shore. In their stories, both ABC affiliate KGTV and CBS affiliate KFMB used a photo that appeared to show a 15 foot shark with its dorsal fin out of the water swimming near Point Loma. Trouble is, the photo was fake.

KGTV spoke to Will Phillips, who said he took a picture of a dolphin. He said a friend of his made it into a shark.

iMediaEthics reports the photo was originally published by the Shark Research Committee, a non-profit scientific research organization. After the stations picked it up, Phillips told them all it was fake.


Both KGTV and KFMB have aired retractions and have posted stories about the hoax on their websites. Watch KGTV’s retraction and interview with Phillips after the jump.

Joel Davis, KGTV news director, told iMediaEthics his station started looking into the shark story after seeing the fake picture on the SRC website. He said they contacted Ralph Collier, president of SRC who felt the faked picture was real.

“We tried different search engines to find the person who actually took the photo to get his story, but he has a very common name and we were unable to contact him,” said Davis. “So, we ran the story with the context that it was posted by the Shark Research Committee website, and explained that they as experts believed it to be authentic.”

Davis said the station will “continue to run any such photos by experts” before publication and also pointed out that transparency is key whenever there is a problem in news reports.

“If somehow the expert(s) get fooled, we’ll be transparent about that,” he said. “I think viewers give a lot of credit to media who are transparent about the process they used for both the initial story, and the followup.”

Here is KGTV’s retraction where they speak to Phillips.