Following a powerful earthquake in early December, false social media posts have emerged claiming the body of a mythical human-like sea creature washed ashore in the southern Philippines. But the photos in these posts show a sculpture by a US-based artist, while experts confirmed no such creature exists.

"A different creature has been found in the waters of Surigao del Sur -- a shokoy, as seen in these photos," says a Facebook post from December 4 shared more than 68,000 times.

The post, written in the Visayan language spoken in the central and southern Philippines, refers to a creature in Philippine mythology commonly depicted as the male equivalent of a mermaid (archived link).

"Elders say this is an effect of the multiple earthquakes that struck Mindanao," it adds, referencing the country's second largest island.

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A magnitude 7.6 quake struck off the coast of Mindanao on December 2 and was followed by four major aftershocks exceeding 6.0 over several hours (archived link).

The quake killed at least three people and injured eight others, while briefly triggering tsunami warnings for the provinces of Surigao del Sur and Davao Oriental. Locals were seen fleeing buildings, evacuating a hospital and seeking higher ground.

The photos purportedly showing the sea creature have been circulated elsewhere on Facebook including here, here, here and here.

Comments by some users suggested they believed the posts.

"This is so scary," one wrote.

"This indicates siyokoys must really exist," another said, using a different spelling for the mythical beast.

But no such creature has been spotted in the region, a local Philippine official told AFP, while the pictures in the posts show artwork.

Myth

"There hasn't been a single report or sighting from any of the fisherfolk, sea patrols or citizens that live adjacent to the coastal waters of the province," said Noel Pugoy, acting chief officer of the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in Surigao del Sur.

"The scientific community wouldn't back up this myth because there isn't much evidence, except for speculation, that mermaids exist," he told AFP on December 14.

In a section titled "Are mermaids real?", the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration states on its website that "no evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found" (archived link).

Reverse image searches by AFP found the photos were earlier uploaded to the website of Juan Cabana, an artist known for producing works featuring mermaids and other make-believe sea creatures (archived link).

The images in the false posts correspond to a series of photos titled "Magyr 2006" in Cabana's online gallery, which says the artwork was made using "authentic fish skin, fins and teeth".

One image in the false posts is identical to a picture on Cabana's site, while the two others show the artwork from different angles.

Below are screenshots of the images in the false posts (left) alongside the corresponding pictures on Cabana's site (right):

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Fact-checking organisation Snopes earlier debunked other posts that misrepresented the same photos as a mermaid purportedly found in the US state of Florida (archived link).

Misinformation related to natural disasters regularly spreads on social media in the Philippines. Some has been debunked by AFP here, here and here.