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Dec 19 2012

Don’t believe everything you see on the internet

The old adage that photographs don’t lie is no longer valid in the age of Photoshop. Now even amateurs have the technology to manipulate photos and even videos to produce results that look remarkable realistic.

This video of an eagle snatching a baby in a park in Canada received widespread notice before suspicions were raised that it was a fake.

Not being at all adept at such manipulations myself, I tend to be easily fooled and this one took me in at first. I should have remembered the physics lesson on the limits of birds to carry weights that was so clearly articulated in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

I am trying to learn to wait for a while before passing on anything that seems surprising, so that those who are more expert than me have time to identify the hoaxes.

12 comments

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  1. 1
    kyoseki

    I do this kind of thing for a living, my entire job is to make people believe what they see :)

    Physics aside, any time you see a viral video that involves a camera pointed at the ground for whatever reason, it’s usually an excuse to swap a real character for a digital double.

  2. 2
    Didaktylos

    Cameras don’t lie – but the surely the basis of the commercial photo- and cinematographic industries is that they will accept without question whatever lies are presented to them.

  3. 3
    Argle Bargle

    Possibly an eagle couldn’t lift a child and even an African swallow couldn’t carry a coconut to Mercia, but what about migrating penguins?

  4. 4
    Acolyte of Sagan

    I pretty much don’t believe ANYTHING I see or read on the internet (especially when it’s on a Wikipedia page) without verifying it independently.

  5. 5
    deepsix

    Seeing is believing.

  6. 6
    Tsu Dho Nimh

    Three giveaways that it’s fake:

    1 – Wrong sound: That high pitched screaming call in the slow-motion replay? It’s a red-tailed hawk, the most commonly misused bird call in the movies, and an indication they were looking for sound effects. Golden eagles make a sort of cross between the hen’s cluck and a yappy dog’s bark (not high pitched at all) if they make any noise at all.

    2 – Wrong feathers: The prominent white mark on the wings (at the “wrist”) as it back-wings coming in for the strike? That’s not a golden’s wing markings. They have dark wings. So do juvenile bald eagles … and they are the only birds of that size in Canada. The Imperial eagle of Europe is the closest match to this baby-snatcher.

    3 – Wrong physics: The bird in the video moves like a 12-pound bald eagle snatching a 1-pound trout off a lake. There should be the usual physics of an impact as the bird hits and grabs prey that weighs as much as it does, and that bird doesn’t even slow down or struggle for altitude. (I thought it was a falconer’s bird and a dummy for a while) The bird should have lurched, or gone arse over wingtips, then worked hard to get off the ground.

    The “baby’s” upper body should show some sort of a collision movement in reaction to being hit by a large fast-moving eagle, and it doesn’t. An adult falconer can get knocked backward when an eagle lands on the padded arm piece (they usually land on perches because they are too big for arms) … and that “baby” doesn’t even rock forward?

  7. 7
    Brian E

    Obviously it was a Haast’s Eagle, that somehow wasn’t killed by the Maori back in the day….
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haast%27s_Eagle
    I would’ve said it was a Wedge-tail, but given the Wedge-tail and Golden eagle form a superspecies, and the only difference in size is that the Wedge-tail has longer wingspan and unexepectedly a Wedge shaped tail, it didn’t seem quite right.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedge-tailed_Eagle

    But obviously it’s a southern hemisphere brute of an eagle, not a northern hemisphere ninny.

  8. 8
    psweet

    I can’t really comment on the physics (although if it was a stuffed dummy, 1 pound sounds about right), but the wing pattern is actually good for a Golden Eagle — around 2 years old, actually. The white at the base of the primaries is a field mark for immature Goldens, and if you stop the video at the right points, it looks as if there’s molt going on right about there. I would expect that anyone who gets that right in constructing a digital image would also get the call right.

  9. 9
    robb

    i read on the internet that the story about the eagle video hoax is a hoax itself.

  10. 10
    Jared A

    Red-tailed hawks are freakin’ awesome. There was at least one in my old neighborhood that preyed on the thriving squirrel population. IIRC, one time traffic was stopped because one was having a meal in the middle of the road.

  11. 11
    Nick Gotts

    I read on the internet that the story about the eagle video hoax being a hoax itself is a hoax itself.

  12. 12
    baal

    Birds weigh a lot less than most suspect. I didn’t know but thought something was off on the basis of the masses involved (which is me saying #3 physics in comment number 6 but less nicely).

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