It's the photo that almost looks too good to be real — and in some cases it isn't.

Now considered the ultimate viral shark photo, a picture snapped by ocean photographer Tom Peschak keeps showing up in unintended places.

When the US city of Houston got flooded after Hurricane Harvey in 2017 an image began circulating on social media of a shark swimming down a flooded highway, next to a car. But of course it wasn't real. The same photo had gone viral after Hurricane Irene in Puerto Rico, reports

While such pictures can circulate the internet in a flash, the original version is actually even better — and the pretty crazy story behind it was recently recounted for National Geographic by the man who captured the moment.


In 2003 a marine biologist told Mr Peschak about an unusually large number of sharks hanging around off the southern shoreline of South Africa.

But when the pair went out to try and track the animals, the noise of the boat engine changed the sharks' behaviour and scared them off, which was a problem because they wanted to observe them in a natural state.

That's when Mr Peschak remembered he had a kayak they could maybe use.

"Because it was my dumbass idea, I got to try it first," he said.

After wading out in the small boat, it proved a success. The pair were able to follow the sharks into shallow water and observe natural behaviour.

The real deal. A shark follows a marine biologist in a kayak off the coast of South Africa. Photo / National Geographic
The real deal. A shark follows a marine biologist in a kayak off the coast of South Africa. Photo / National Geographic

Mr Peschak ended up spending months on a research boat waiting for the perfect time to get the kayak back out — and one day they got the perfect, albeit nerve-racking, moment.

"Then we get this one bold shark that comes up behind the kayak and quickly rises in the water column," he recalled.

"I am down to the last five or six frames on my roll of film. As the dorsal fin breaks the surface, the scientist in the kayak looks back, then click."


He had taken what would arguably become his most famous photo.

"Instead of the scientist tracking the shark the shark is now tracking the scientist, which was much more compelling. Sometimes the best images are not the ones we planned for," he said.

When he posted it online — 15 years ago now — he got 100,000 visitors to his website in the first 24 hours.

Ironically, many people thought it was fake with online discussion forums dissecting and analysing the photo from every angle.

So next time you see this shark pop up, don't be fooled.