This is the phony photo of a killer whale off Schoodic Point that has been making the rounds on social media and Reddit. Credit: Contributed

A photograph circulating on Facebook and Reddit that supposedly shows a killer whale swimming off Schoodic Point has been exposed as a doctored image by a Bar Harbor naturalist.

The photo was posted Wednesday morning and has been shared hundreds of times by Facebook users living in Maine, generating hundreds of comments and emoji reactions.

But according to Zack Klyver, naturalist with the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company, the whale image in the photo was copied from a photo published last month in the Seattle Times of a mother whale pushing her dead calf through the water off the San Juan Islands in Washington state. An examination of the two photos supports Klyver’s assertion that the Maine photo being circulated online is a fake.

Klyver said he bears some responsibility for the photo bearing shared on Facebook, because he posted it on his personal Facebook page before he realized it was a fake. A friend of his had sent him the link to the Reddit post, and he posted the photo to see what other people might think.

Klyver said lingering doubts about the photo prompted him to look around online to see if he could find a similar image elsewhere that would suggest the Schoodic photo had been altered. Such a sighting would be highly unusual in Maine, though not unprecedented. He said he had a gut feeling that something about the photo on Reddit was not right.

“People can get taken for a ride if they don’t do their research,” Klyver said.

He has since deleted his post of the photo, as have others who saw it on his page and then shared it on theirs.

Klyver, an Eastport native, studied whales at the University of Maine and College of the Atlantic, and has been a naturalist for the whale watch company for many years. He said he personally has never seen any killer whales, also known as orcas, in the Gulf of Maine, but a few have been spotted in the gulf over the past decades. There is one known as “ Old Thom” — presumably named after another orca that lived off Australia 100 years ago — that appears every now and then in the Bay of Fundy.

“There is an orca that patrols around the Gulf of Maine that was sighted a few days ago off the coast of Nova Scotia,” Klyer said, referring to Old Thom.

Such sightings made him think at first that maybe the photo taken off Schoodic Point was legit, he said. Plus, unlike other whales, orcas are known to frequent shallow waters and so often can be seen from shore in places considered their natural habitat, such as in the Pacific Northwest.

“Orcas will come in close to shore like that, so it’s not impossible,” he said.

According to the BBC, ABC News, Gizmodo and other news organizations, there are a variety of techniques that people can use to identify when a photo posted online is fake and when it is genuine. The fact-checking website Snopes has a list of posted photos that either were doctored or which were published with misleading or false information about what they show.

An article published last October by Gizmodo said that detecting a fake photo might be as simple as conducting a reverse online image search on Google or TinEye.

“What you might find are dozens of matches of the same photograph, which might not get you anywhere, but if you’re lucky the search will turn up the original, unedited picture as well so you can see which alterations were made,” the Gizmodo article says. “If the fake photo is a composite of several other images, again you might dig up the originals.”

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Bill Trotter

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....