On August 21 2023, a pair of posts to Reddit’s r/WhitePeopleTwitter featured two screenshots of a tweet apparently by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) about a long-debunked “highway shark” sighting in Los Angeles:
Cruz’s “highway shark” tweet appeared during an unusual weather event in the Southwestern United States, Tropical Storm Hilary, which drenched the Mexican states of Baja California Sur, Baja California, and Sonora before moving up to the United States:
Tropical Storm Hilary drenched Southern California from the coast to the desert resort city of Palm Springs and inland mountains, forcing rescuers to pull several people from swollen rivers.
By early Monday [August 21 2023], remnants of the storm that first brought soaking rains to Mexico’s arid Baja California peninsula and the border city of Tijuana, threatened Nevada and as far north as Oregon and Idaho with flooding.
Southern Californians were battling flooded roads, mudslides and downed trees.
As for the “highway shark” image, it was well known to debunkers as an extremely common weather-related hoax that has become a meme over a period of several years. KnowYourMeme.com maintained an entry (“Hurricane Shark”) about the meme, explaining:
Hurricane Shark refers to an illegitimate photograph of a shark swimming on a city highway. The photograph has been used during multiple natural disasters and floods, warning people that sharks are swimming through the flood waters.
During Hurricane Irene in August 2011, a viral photograph of shark swimming through flood waters in Puerto Rico began circulating. On August 25th , the website Ego TV posted the photo (shown below) with the caption:
“This picture was taken in Puerto Rico shortly after Hurricane Irene ravaged the island. Yes, that’s a shark swimming down the street next to a car, and this is exactly why authorities in NYC are warning people not to go swimming in flood waters after a hurricane. Sharks go where fish go, and fish go where water goes, and if that water (and those subsequent fish) happen to be right outside your front door, then guess where that freakin’ shark’s going to be?!”
In an October 2018 fact check related to Hurricane Michael, we mentioned the “highway shark” image as an example of extremely common weather-related image hoaxes:
There are many scenes showing Michael’s devastating power and its aftermath. This one, however, is not one of them. And while we don’t ever claim to be in the business of predicting the future, we can say with confidence that when the inevitable “shark swimming through the streets after the hurricane” image appears, it won’t be real either.
A box labeled “Readers added context” linked to a 2011 fact check, and read:
The photo originally appeared in 2011, after Hurricane Irene hit Puerto Rico. The hoax also made the rounds in 2015 after Texas was hit with heavy rains, in 2016 during Hurricane Matthew and again in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey[.]
On August 21 2023, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tweeted a “highway shark” image, alongside a tweet suggesting the image was from Los Angeles in August 2023. In actuality, the image in question has been in constant circulation since at least 2011, and it did not depict a real “highway shark.” Cruz’s tweet was, unfortunately, real.