Viral video doesn’t show ‘crocodile invasion’ at beach

A viral video is said to show hundreds or thousands of crocodiles gathered on a beach. But they are actually Pantanal caimans in a remote area behaving normally.

A day at the beach interrupted by a swarm of hundreds or thousands of crocodiles emerging from the water and walking onto the sand sounds like a story concocted from someone’s nightmares. But that’s what several people have recently claimed in viral posts on social media sites.

On September 15, Ken Rutowski, a talk radio host, a Video of crocodiles sit on a sandy beach with little space between them. He said the video, which has been viewed more than 10 million times, shows an “invasion” by several hundred thousand crocodiles swarming a Brazilian beach, sending “local people” into a panic.

Another version of this video with the same caption and viewed almost 2 million times, was posted on September 13th. That caption was used again in a version of the video posted to Instagram later that same week.

THE QUESTION

Have hundreds of ‘crocodiles’ panicked ‘local people’ by invading a beach?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

That's wrong.

No, hundreds of crocodiles didn’t panic the “local people” by invading a beach. The animals are actually caimans and the video was shot in a remote region of Brazil that isn’t a popular beach destination.

WHAT WE FOUND

The caption of the viral video is spot on: it was shot in Brazil. But most of the other details in the caption are wrong. The video is from an uninhabited area of ​​a large inland wetland populated by piranhas, far from the Brazilian coast. So there is no local population to panic, especially one that would use this beach. This behavior is not uncommon for caimans, a smaller relative of the crocodiles, which are the actual animals in the video.

“These are yacare caimans in a vast flooded grassland called the Pantanal, found primarily in southern Brazil but also in parts of Paraguay and Bolivia,” wrote Kent Vliet, a crocodile biology researcher at the University of Florida, in an email. “When water is plentiful, these caimans spread across the landscape. But in times of drought, they congregate in large numbers wherever there is water. These animals bask on the shore to keep their bodies warm. This region has been suffering from extreme drought conditions for several years.”

A longer version of the viral video was previously posted on August 25 on YouTube and Instagram, both of which locate the video in the Pantanal, which according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is the world’s largest tropical wetland in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. WWF says flood water fills the Pantanal between October and March — the summer months in that region — and then slowly drains during the winter months.

The title and description of the YouTube video further narrows the location down to the Nabileque River, a small river that flows through the Pantanal and into the Paraguay River on Brazil’s border with Paraguay.

But the original, longer version of the viral video also reveals a detail to pinpoint the video’s location. At the end of the original video, in a snippet of the version that went viral, the camera pans to the right just enough to see that it was shot from a wooden bridge over the river.

Back in 2016, a newspaper from the nearest major city in the area ran a short news article that contained an image of a wooden bridge spanning the Nabileque River. The bridge appears to be the same as the last second of the original video. The only major difference is that the bridge from the news article doesn’t have the fencing of the bridge from the video, but these were probably added later when the news article wrote in Portuguese that the bridge was closed for repairs.

The story went that the bridge was at the 42 km mark of a road called MS-195. This information was echoed by a government statement and another news item from the Pantanal region.

On Google Maps, MS-195 crosses the river about 42 km after the start of the road. It was on this remote bridge that video of the caimans would have been taken.

No towns or even communities are visible on Google Maps along the entire MS-195, which means that this river beach is at least 42 km or 26 miles from the nearest settlement.

A Sept. 1 Instagram video posted by someone currently in the Nabileque floodplain region of Pantacal showed an almost identical scene of caimans huddled on a riverbank beach. Videos from earlier in 2022 and 2020 show caimans congregating on shores elsewhere in the Pantanal, and a photographer for National Geographic snapped a picture of a school of caimans in shallow waters somewhere in the Pantanal in 2016.

Both the WWF and Pantanal Escapes say there are an estimated 10 million caimans in the Pantanal, with Pantanal Escapes adding that they are “well visible in significant numbers around lakes and along river banks” in the region.

“Despite its toothy appearance, the species is usually quite shy. It’s common to see people approaching them and even swimming in the same water with them,” says Pantanal Escapes. “In fact, the Pantanal has to be one of the few places where the sight of these reptiles is taken as a positive sign by swimmers… as they keep piranha numbers down. Nevertheless, caution is advised, since [caimans] can become aggressive.”

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Alley Einstein

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