Stunning face of 'Neptune' appears in photo of crashing waves

The god of the sea is back, and he looks pissed.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
2 min read

A recent study from the University of Sydney School of Psychology investigated why our brains process certain signals and interpret them as human faces. And right on cue, here's another stunning example. BBC photographer Jeff Overs took a photo in Newhaven, in East Sussex, England on Tuesday that very much resembles an impressive bearded face. The BBC itself compared the image to Neptune, the Roman god of water. 

Overs took the picture as waves crashed over the harbor wall during a storm at high tide in winds of over 50 mpg (80 km/h), the BBC reports. "It's a straight shot, and I haven't manipulated the image at all," he said.

As you look at the photo, you can see what appears to be Neptune's forehead, eyes, nose and chin -- even his eyelashes -- rising out of the waves that seem to rush forward from a lighthouse. 

As the Sydney study acknowledges, sightings like this are examples of face pareidolia, where human brains turn an otherwise random pattern into something familiar to us -- a face.

Overs told the BBC the location is popular with photographers because the waves splash into the wind and "when blown back occasionally make patterns that look like (pareidolic) ghoulish faces." He also noted that a small wave in the front of the image looks like a hand.

Professor David Alais of the Sydney study says we probably evolved to do this because the danger of not spotting a face was greater than occasionally mistaking something else for a face. He said it happens lightning fast in the brain, taking only a few hundred milliseconds.

"We know these objects are not truly faces, yet the perception of a face lingers," Alais said. "We end up with something strange: a parallel experience that it is both a compelling face and an object. Two things at once."

Social media users shared their thoughts. Wrote one, "First corona, now the Old Gods are returning. What's next?"

Some were suspicious about the photo possibly being doctored. One person said, "Zoom into the face, the sky colour behind is off. It's too light where the pictures been altered."