As Hurricane Ian slammed into Florida late last month, scenes of the aftermath and devastation spread widely on social media, much of it real.
But hurricanes have also become notorious for the spread of fake news, especially with seemingly strange interactions involving animals during a storm.
One video of a seal flopping down a city street that went viral after Hurricane Ian has now been debunked. The footage is real, but it was filmed years ago in Chile — not last month in Florida.
The video shows a large, grey seal on a city sidewalk, seemingly after a rainstorm. The clips were shared relatively widely after the hurricane last month — one tweet seemingly attributing the seal footage to Ian has nearly 400,000 “likes” and has been viewed more than 25 million times.
But the footage is really from the coastal Chilean city of Puerto Cisnes, and was filmed in 2020, reports Reuters.
The seal in question is an elephant seal — a massive, multi-thousand-pound animal — that found itself in the Chilean town one night before being corralled back toward the ocean by residents using a large tarp, as The Guardian reported at the time.
The recent viral tweet only showed a few seconds of the seal waddling down a sidewalk. But the gigantic size and quintessential proboscis of the animal are still evident — which is the first clue that this footage was not from Hurricane Ian, as there are no elephant seals living in the wild in Florida.
The animal in the video is a southern elephant seal, a species from the far-southern oceans around Antarctica, Chile and Argentina, only rarely making it much further north than New Zealand. Another related species, the northern elephant seal, does live in North America, but only along the Pacific Coast from California through Alaska — not in the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico around Florida.
While no seal species is a common resident of Florida, some seals from the northern Atlantic Ocean have been spotted as far south as the Sunshine State.
But Florida is world-famous for its resident manatees — a type of grey and rotund marine mammal with a moustache-like face that inhabits coastal waters in the southern end of the state.
Unlike the elephant seal video, some of the footage that went viral on social media really did show the aftermath of Hurricane Ian — including footage of what appeared to be a shark thrashing in a flooded street.
And other wildlife in southwest Florida has appeared in the storm’s aftermath. Last week, the fire chief on Sanibel Island, which saw widespread destruction from Hurricane Ian, told CNN that there were “alligators running around, and there are snakes all over the place.”