Last week an attention-grabbing feature appeared on Surfline entitled "What Lies Beneath: Photographer Dale Kobetich Survives a Dramatic Shark Encounter by Utilizing Bravery and Calmness." The feature was quite literally amazing; five well-lit photos revealed the jaws of a Mako shark veering inches from Kobetich's lens beneath the Newport Beach Pier, and Kobetich vividly narrated his survival of the encounter in photo-by-photo captions.
Internet users are a savvy, if distrusting bunch, and by the time the weekend hit, many viewers cried wolf. A push of passionate feedback later, Kobetich confessed that the entire scenario was a fabrication. He had purchased the dead Mako from a local Newport Beach dory man, placed it in the water, photographed it, and then as Kobetich put it, "it spread like wildfire."
In a well-written piece by Paul Holmes, Surfline explained the mishap to its viewers, but we thought we'd throw Dale on the Hot Seat, because one man exploiting the public's irrational fear of sharks is…not cool.
Dale, how did this evolve into a full-blown faux shark story?
I've been shooting a lot in Newport, testing a lot of different stuff, and one time I was heading out when the dory guys were coming in, and I saw this big fin sticking out of the dory boat, and I go, "What is that?" And they go, "It's a Mako." and I go, "Can I buy it?" Because I buy stuff from them…odds and ends. So I bought it from them and I took it out in the water, and when I'm shooting it I'm thinking, "This is pretty bizarre stuff." I mean, here is a big eyeball and these teeth; it's pretty dramatic.
I didn't set out from the beginning to do something to create a scandal on Surfline. People were going "Bitchin' photo, but how did you get the shark?" I couldn't say I got it from the dory guys, because I thought there was a moratorium on shark killing. I didn't want to get them in trouble. So I just said it came up to me and it kinda just went from there. As I was telling the story, it got more convoluted or more embellished…or if you want to say more bullshit. Which I shouldn't have done, you know? Once I started getting the photos out there, the OC Register wanted to do something on it and I said no way. I didn't think it was that big a deal at first, because I was getting response from people. I've always shared my photos with people what I see, what I shoot, what I see in Newport, shooting pictures of the sealife.
How did the process of getting your story on Surfline go? Did they approach you?
Yeah, yeah. They approached me. I did not approach them.
They were under the impression that everything was legitimate.
Yeah, they were buffooned .The gal, bless her heart, a real sweet gal, had no idea…Surfline was under the impression it was a legitimate thing.
In all fairness, I don't see why they would assume that it was a staged situation.
“As I was telling the story, it got more convoluted or more embellished…or if you want to say more bullshit.”
Well, what happened was I posted a lot of pictures – so many pictures and a lot of them were blatantly suspicious. The shark is going in the same direction all the time and the mouth's open; the same thing in every photo. I propped his mouth open with a number two pencil. I put my hand in his mouth and I put a pencil in there, so every picture is the same. So I'm thinking these guys are going to see what the heck's going on. But it just so happens that the way I shot the photos it looked very, very believable. They're epic pictures of an animal in the water that – you know he's dead – but with the people on the pier looking down and the clear water, and the eye and the teeth and everything… from the very beginning I should have told everyone that this is a deceased shark.
You have quite an imagination. In the feature you say: “This is the first photo I shot of Mr. Mako. I was under the pier shooting star fish photos. I saw something coming in from the shadows — my head was above water; the housing was below water; no mask or snorkel. I thought it was a seal. I moved out into the light so I could see him coming and took a defensive position! I remember hearing a tourist say, “What are you doing? Is that a dolphin? He’s big.” But 150% of my attention was on the shark and keeping the housing between me and him. Water photography in Newport Beach will never be the same!”
A tourist did say that…Well, in telling that story I'm trying to… well there's some truth to that, if you're out if the water and something comes at you, you can't turn your back and run. You've gotta bang 'em in the head. Obviously, if you can get out of the water, then get out of the water.
This whole situation is completely fabricated.
Well, of course.
Were you aware of how they were going to spin it? Because the title is very favorable, it applauds your bravery…
See here is the thing… I just shouldn't have done it, period. They went on the assumption that everything was kosher. But you know they are great people over there.
How have they handled the situation?
Good, but obviously when someone's fooled they are not going to be happy about it. I wouldn't be happy. So from the word go I should have just kept my mouth shut, in embellishing the tale. The picture's are fine, but it's the story I told that did the damage and that's not kosher.
So what do you think you've learned from this situation?
Don't tell fish stories. It just got way out of hand. I overestimated the power of Surfline, meaning I'm not that familiar with Surfline and with their demographics. What I'm saying is that it spread like wildfire. If I could go back and do it over again I wouldn't. I would have just said that the pictures were of this shark.
Is there anything else you want to say?
Before you print anything I want to read it. I've learned you want to check things out before anything goes public. Many times there's stuff you didn't say that shows up in the editorial.