An island community on Lake Ontario expressed a mix of relief and frustration Wednesday after a video which had many wondering if a shark was lurking nearby turned out to be an elaborate marketing ploy.
The clip made waves across the province and beyond, with many offering opinions on what they were seeing, although experts agreed the creature on camera wasn't a freshwater-friendly bull shark but likely a large catfish.
The matter even came up at Ontario’s legislature, where the governing Liberals cheekily noted there was no need to strike a Jaws-like task force, but asked residents to stay safe and report any sightings to the Natural Resources Ministry.
It was only on Wednesday afternoon that Discovery Canada, which is owned by broadcasting giant Bell Media, said a finned creature which momentarily surfaced while three men fished off a dock was in fact a life-like prosthetic model of a shark.
The channel said the video – which was posted on YouTube July 10 – was the first stage of a marketing campaign to promote an upcoming series on sharks.
But for local residents on Wolfe Island, where the video was supposed to have been filmed, the entire matter was one that set some on edge.
“I was really fearful,” said Laura Staley. “Over all, I’m absolutely relieved.”
For Kody Paul, the matter was something he had to discuss with his two young boys over the past week.
“Our kids grow up swimming in these waters,” he said. “It certainly switched up the atmosphere around here.”
Finding out the video was in fact a stunt came as a surprise, and ultimately a relief.
“It was a little bit offputting,” said Paul. “We’re choosing not to get too upset about it.”
Wolfe Island Mayor Denis Doyle, who took numerous calls on the matter, said the stunt was perturbing.
“It’s rather concerning that people do those kind of dumb things,” he said, upon learning the clip was a hoax.
Those behind the fake video said they decided to come clean after seeing the frenzy of speculation sparked by the clip.
“The intent isn’t to mislead or to frighten people. As soon as we started hearing stories about people were talking about not getting in the water, that’s exactly when we decided to act,” said Discovery Canada president Paul Lewis.
“The intent really was simply to stir up some discussion.”
Lewis said the original plan had been to let the clip sit online for several weeks ahead of the series it was linked to.
“It all happened so fast,” he said, adding that none of Bell Media’s new channels were notified of the hoax ahead of it being revealed.
“The possibility that there’s one shark in Lake Ontario would cause that sort of concern and consternation I think to me shows that there’s still a lot of education to be done about sharks.”
Lewis added that the channel had not, to his knowledge, communicated with anyone on Wolfe Island about the stunt but was happy to do so.
“There was no anticipation on our side to cause any kind of fear or upset at all,” he said. “It was really a fun summer stunt that we thought people would engage with.”
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