An image circulating online shows a giant sea turtle with two people kneeling behind it. Is this photo real or fake?
The image is real
The turtle is closer to the camera than the people behind it, making it appear slightly larger than it really is. The photo was originally posted on the Pedalling About blog, which documents the biking adventures of Laura and Paddy, a couple from South London.
In a post entitled, Adventures in the Amazon: Cayenne to Macapa, they describe encountering a large sea turtle laying eggs, “A walk along the beaches to the east of the city rewarded us with the astonishing sight of a turtle laying her eggs in the middle of the day, and we watched her mesmerized.”
Since being posted in May 2012, the image has resurfaced on hundreds of websites, where it has been pointed out how large the creature appears in relation to the people behind it. Often images such as this are created by “forced perspective” – in which a creature’s distance to the camera is closer than a person in the background, creating the illusion of a very large animal. See other viral examples, such as this snake or this crocodile.
To clear things up, we contacted Laura from the Pedalling About blog and asked her to clarify the approximate size of the turtle. Laura graciously responded with the following answer, “We worked out that from head to tail it was about the same length as my husband is tall, so about 195cm. It was on a beach in French Guayana.”
The world’s largest turtles are the leatherback turtle, or lute turtle, which this specimen appears to be. The largest known specimen was 275cm, or about 9 feet in length. That turtle was 100 years old and weighed around 2000 pounds. The average size of a leatherback is 100-175 centimeters (3.3 – 5.7 feet). Thus the turtle in the image here was slightly larger than the average leatherback.
This photo does in fact depict a giant sea turtle photographed in 2012. It appears especially large in the photo due to its close proximity to the camera.
Updated March 15, 2016
Originally published May 2013